Dominion Hospital - May 31, 2017

If you knew that your child was engrossed in the story of a schoolgirl’s suicide, how would you respond? By now, many of your are probably aware of a new Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why.” The series is bringing the issues of suicide and youth mental health to the forefront of conversations everywhere. The 13 episodes in season one (Netflix has already announced a second season) tell the story of 17-year-old Hannah, who takes her own life and leaves behind a suicide note in the form of 13 cassette tapes.

Please know that children as young as elementary age are binge-watching 13 Reasons Why, and the show’s enormous popularity is astounding, and at the same time, perhaps not. Suicide is now the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10 — 24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED. Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,240 attempts by young people grades 7-12 (JasonFoundation.com) So it may not be surprising to see strong reactions to the series published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and CNN.

At least one positive outcome is that the show provides opportunities for parents, teachers, mental health providers and other adults to begin discussions involving depression, suicide, and a variety of other topics that are pertinent to teenagers. Pretending that these issues do not exist, not at my child's school, is not an option. We must be aware and help children and young adults to realize there are other ways to cope with being bullied, experiencing trauma at home or in school, and even being sexually assaulted.

Talking about suicide and suicide prevention is necessary. It is important to know that, in spite of the portrayal of a serious lack of response by some characters in 13 Reasons Why, there are many treatment options for life's challenges, distress, and mental well being. Treatment works!

If you’d like to talk to your children about the subjects highlighted in “13 Reasons Why” but aren’t sure where to begin, here are some resources:

  • The JED Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to prevent suicide in teens and young adults, has developed a series of talking points for children and adults.
  • The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide offers helpful information on how to know if suicide is a risk for your family.

Dominion Hospital is also proud to serve as a Community Resource Center for The Jason Foundation, which is dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide through education and awareness programs. Please visit The Jason Foundation to learn more.