Why ’13 Reasons Why’ Should Start Conversation, Not End It

When Pressure Runs High, TV Might Not Be The Answer

Photo+courtesy+of+Netflix
Photo courtesy of Netflix

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Erika Carlson and Zariah Goodman, Opinion Writers

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A new Netflix series has sparked conversations at Weston Ranch and nationwide about a sensitive subject facing teens, educators and therapists: teen suicide.

The streaming TV series called “13 Reasons Why,” based on the 2007 Jay Asher novel of the same name, has been called controversial as to whether the series exposes the day-to-day pressures felt by high school students or if the show glorifies adolescent suicide.

The Fiction

The series, “13 Reasons Why,” shows a high school girl named Hannah Baker. Hannah commits suicide, yet her story takes on a life of its own.

Before her suicide, Hannah records and leaves 13 cassette tapes for 13 people in their town of Crestmont to explain why she killed herself.

There are negative consequences if Hannah’s friends, like Clay, don’t listen to her tapes and follow the directions she leaves for them. Although we see signs that Hannah’s in trouble go unnoticed, a clearly disturbing message develops in this story: You’re nobody until you’re dead.

Things could have turned out differently for Hannah.

If her friend Kat had stayed at Hannah’s school, if Hannah kept the same boyfriend, if so many other things went in other directions, then maybe Hannah might have come to alternative conclusions. But they don’t. And Hannah doesn’t.

The Reality

The pressures that can lead high school students to disturbing outcomes are everywhere. There’s pressure to earn high grades in school. There’s pressure to achieve family hopes. There’s pressure to succeed in sports. The pressure of expectations can appear to be everywhere. In this way, the fictional Hannah Baker can represent tens of thousands of teens who commit suicide each year either from being bullied or beating up themselves over a lack of success.

For many students, high school doesn’t resemble that Disney musical we watched in middle school. Many times, there are very real struggles and frustrations that occur within the halls of the campus and beyond the doors of a class when it’s least expected. Recently, when a student in Illinois posted a petition to the Web site, change.org to combat her high school’s “pressure culture” to push students to get high grade point averages, nearly 2,000 students signed on in support. When success seems out of reach, Naperville North student Tessa Newman posted that, “tragically, you may now understand that to some students, death is better than failure.”

Suicide is the leading cause of death for students aging from 15 to 19, according to statistic collected by the US Centers for Disease Control. One in five teenagers in the United States seriously considers suicide each year. Approximately 1,700 teens die by suicide each year. And since 1960, suicide rates for teens have tripled, making it the third leading cause of adolescent death and the second cause among college students.

According to the American Psychological Association, teen suicide is preventable and, as in Hannah’s case, there are an abundance of warning signs that at-risk students give to their family members, friends, and teachers as a way of identifying possible permanent damage. Risk factors for teen suicide include disapproval of a student’s sexual identity, family breakup through divorce, alcohol or drug abuse, family dysfunction and bullying, as identified by major health organization publications.

The Resources

Here at Weston Ranch and throughout San Joaquin County, there are helpful resources available to students might who feel internal and external pressures and question whether life is worth living.

Earlier this month, the high school’s Peer Resource class watched the first episode of the “13 Reasons Why” series to examine how it addresses the sensitive subject. Class members employ the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program and spend part of academic year presenting the program to incoming students.

Peer Resource Advisor Deborah Chavez said when it came to the TV series, she was not impressed. Neither was Alexa Curtis, a teen bullying expert, whose opinion article, “Does ’13 Reasons Why’ Glamorize Teen Suicide?” was published by Rolling Stone, though Curtis found something positive in the negative.

Curtis wrote, “Every school should take advice from 13 Reasons Why and put up posters with free hotlines and counseling services in the hallways. Do school boards really need to watch a show to realize that, though?”

In the series, Hannah uses a series of 13 tapes to try to tell her story. Of course, by then it is too late.

The time to speak up is BEFORE doing something permanent.

“Students should know that there are people willing to hear them and help them,” said Weston Ranch High School VCC Counselor Nancy Valdovinos. “They are not alone.”

 

Here are some phone numbers and Web sites that can be used when pressures and other stresses run high.

San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services Crisis Line: 209-468-8686

Youth and Human Trafficking: 209-948-1911

Sexual Assault: 209-465-4997

Domestic Violence: 209-465-4878

Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program https://yellowribbon.org/

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

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