The controversial new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, has catapulted the issue of teen suicide to the forefront of public conversations. The series, which walks viewers through 13 reasons why a teenage girl took her own life, has become the “most tweeted about show of 2017, thus far.” It was released in its entirety on March 31, 2017, and the pairing of its controversial storyline and popularity has prompted school systems across the nation, including Wake County, North Carolina’s largest school system, to issue alerts to parents.
Many leaders from across the country have expressed concerns over the show, including Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore wrote that his main concern with the show, “Is that the central conceit of the series feeds one of the drivers of teenage suicide, and that is the sense of suicide as a storyline.” Moore went on to say, “13 Reasons Why, I fear, just might fuel the pull to suicide in some because the storyline itself furthers the illusion that suicide is ‘fixing’ something.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, “Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others” is one of the top risk factors for suicide. Others to watch out for are a family history of suicide, depression or mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, stressful life events or loss, and easy access to lethal methods.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24, claiming 4,600 lives nationwide each year. More startling is that most young people survive suicide attempts. Each year, approximately 157,000 in this age group are treated in emergency rooms for self-inflicted injuries. Boys are most likely to die from suicide: 81 percent of suicide deaths in this age range are from boys. However, girls are more likely to attempt suicide. North Carolina’s suicide rate is at the national average of 13.6 per 100,000.
Mental Health experts are urging parents and school personnel to take this opportunity to have discussions regarding suicide with teens and those who exhibit the above risk factors. They also warn parents to be aware of this new television series and make an intentional decision about whether your child should watch it.
State lawmakers have not ignored the problem of youth suicide. Leaders in the North Carolina House of Representatives have taken action to help with this tragic issue. They recently passed a bill, HB 285, that seeks to better equip school personnel to help them recognize suicide risk factors and be ready to intervene and refer students who show tendencies towards suicide.