JULIA ELLIFRITT, LISW & PETE BLISS, TH.D., D.MIN.
Nobody wants to think about the topic of suicide. Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to imagine that their family could be impacted by it. But the suicide rate in this country is considered a public health crisis, and television shows like 13 Reasons Why are starting conversations about this topic. Talking about this topic with your children is a good idea. We need to talk about this difficult subject with our children and other family members. Talking about suicide saves lives. Having said that, 13 Reasons Why is a very controversial Netflix series. If parents allow their children to watch the show, most school administrators are recommending parents watch it with their child.
According to the Cuyahoga County Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 17.4% of teens in Cuyahoga County reported to have seriously contemplated suicide in the past 12 months. We asked local suicide expert Pete Bliss, to share some thoughts on youth suicide and this tv series. Pete had the following to say:
- 13 Reasons Why continues to stir debate nationwide. As youth suicides continue to rise at unprecedented rates, suicide continues to emerge as an option for at-risk teens. While 13 Reasons Why is a story about a young teen’s suicide, it does little to teach about mental illness. Vulnerable viewers who watch 13 Reasons Why may not understand that suicide is a preventable death, one that 90% of the time is the result of an undiagnosed or untreated depressive disorder.
- 13 Reasons Why also glamorizes suicide, with decorated lockers, pep rallies, students taking selfies by Hannah’s locker, mysterious packages, audio-taped travel hunts, and even flashback scenes that keep Hannah “alive” in the series. Research reports that depictions which romanticize suicide in these ways create a contagious trend for copycat suicides.
- Schools throughout Northeast Ohio must continue to strengthen efforts to ensure effective suicide prevention components are included in health education curricula at age-appropriate levels, and parents must also be willing and able to initiate sensitive conversations with their children, in their own homes.
TALK SAVES LIVES
Let’s continue the conversation. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide has these ideas for talking with your child:
Contrary to myth, talking about suicide CANNOT plant the idea in someone’s head! It actually can open up communication about a topic that is often kept a secret, and secrets that are exposed to the rational light of day often become less powerful and scary. You also give your child permission to bring up the subject again in the future.
If it isn’t prompted by something your child is saying or doing that worries you, approach this topic in the same way as other subjects that are important to you, but may or may not be important to your child:
- Timing is everything! Pick a time when you have the best chance of getting your child’s attention. Sometimes a car ride, for example, assures you of a captive, attentive audience. Or a suicide that has received media attention can provide the perfect opportunity to bring up the topic.
- Think about what you want to say ahead of time and rehearse a script if necessary. It always helps to have a reference point: (”I was reading in the paper that youth suicide has been increasing…” or “I saw that your school is having a program for teachers on suicide prevention.”)
- If this is a hard subject for you to talk about, admit it! (”You know, I never thought this was something I’d be talking with you about, but I think it’s really important”). By acknowledging your discomfort, you give your child permission to acknowledge his/her discomfort too.
- Ask for your child’s response. Be direct! (”What do you think about suicide?”, “Is it something that any of your friends talk about?”, “Have you ever thought about it? What about your friends?”)
- Listen to what your child has to say. You’ve asked the questions, so simply consider your child’s answers. If you hear something that worries you, be honest about that too. “What you’re telling me has really gotten my attention and I need to think about it some more. Let’s talk about this again, okay?”
- Don’t overreact or under-react. Overreaction will close off any future communication on the subject. Under-reacting, especially in relation to suicide, is often just a way to make ourselves feel better. ANY thoughts or talk of suicide (”I felt that way a while ago but don’t any more”) should ALWAYS be revisited. Remember that suicide is an attempt to solve a problem that seems impossible to solve in any other way. Ask about the problem that created the suicidal thoughts. This can make it easier to bring up again in the future (”I wanted to ask you again about the situation you were telling me about…”)
Read more here: https://www.sptsusa.org/not-my-kid/
If you or someone you know has a question about suicide, or has lost someone to a suicide, please feel free to call Cornerstone of Hope at 216.524.4673. We have several programs to serve people, including Individual and Family Counseling and Suicide Loss Support Groups.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or need someone to talk to, please call the National Suicide Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255.
Director of Education and Community Outreach, Cornerstone of Hope
Pete Bliss, Th.D., D.Min.
Founder/Coordinator, Cuyahoga County Suicide Postvention Response Team, which partners with the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office to reach out to those most immediately impacted by suicide loss. He regularly provides suicide prevention and loss response training for law enforcement teams, first responders, and a wide array of other community service providers.