MHA-WI Position on 13 Reasons Why
As the state leader for developing suicide prevention infrastructure and training, MHA-WI has an important role to play in promoting evidence-based and best practices for suicide prevention. This extends into the realm of media messaging. The popular Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, has garnered significant popularity among youth and poses a significant risk to those who may themselves be suicidal or who have been bullied or sexually abused. The premise of the show, that one might be able to get back at those who one feels have hurt them by killing oneself is a potentially appealing message to these at-risk youth. The fact that the show includes very few portrayals of individuals demonstrating support for the lead character or modelling appropriate help-seeking can lead those viewing the show to conclude that help will not be available. The graphic portrayal of the lead character’s suicide strongly conflicts with recommended practices for media.
And yet the show remains available for viewing. Therefore it is incumbent upon MHA-WI to utilize our role to educate the general community about both the concerns and the resources available. Shortly after the show aired, consensus talking points were developed by the JED Foundation and SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), two highly reputable organizations in the area of messaging to youth. MHA-WI posted these on the Prevent Suicide Wisconsin website and sent an e-news to the hundreds of individuals who subscribe, informing them about the talking points. The MHA-WI Director of Public Policy also took advantage of an invitation to take part in a WPR broadcast talking about the show and resources available.
While the producers of the show argue that it provides an opportunity to talk about an important topic, they ignore the fact that most people are not very comfortable talking about suicide. MHA-WI believes our most important role is to make sure that individuals across Wisconsin know about the opportunities to obtain education about talking about suicide-primarily through QPR training—by contacting local coalitions in their area. We also believe it is important for parents to know that schools are legally required to educate youth about suicide. Not all schools are doing so. Making parents aware of the resources that the Department of Public Instruction makes available to schools to support this requirement can serve to motivate them to talk with their school principals and school boards about the importance of providing this education. We will never be able to respond to all the messages—either through general media or through social media-- that can put kids at risk of suicide. We need to make sure they are equipped to respond to these and know where and how to access help.
For a summary of some tips for viewing and discussing the series 13 Reasons Why: www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points
For a more detailed guidance specific to educators, parents and youth see this resource from the National Association of School Psychologists: www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/preventing-youth-suicide/13-reasons-why-netflix-series-considerations-for-educators
For information about Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction resources: https://dpi.wi.gov/sspw/mental-health/youth-suicide-prevention
To find a local coalition in your area that might be able to provide training on talking about suicide: www.preventsuicidewi.org/wisconsin-coalitions.aspx
And here is an idea that might inspire you to think about how to promote more positive messages: www.theoaklandpress.com/general-news/20170504/oxford-high-school-students-begin-project-called-13-reasons-why-not
Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide (PDF) References and additional information can be found at: www.ReportingOnSuicide.org.
Engaging the Media in Promoting Suicide Prevention PowerPoint presentation from Denise Pazur at the 2011 Communities in Action to Prevent Suicide Conference