13 Reasons Why Not

Monday, June 5th, 2017

We at Interfaith Counselling Centre are concerned about the possible negative impact of the recent Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, on the mental well being of viewers, especially those who are already struggling with difficulties like depression or trauma. On April 27, 2017, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) published the following on their website, cmha.ca:

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA National) joins with the Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP) in raising concerns about content in 13 Reasons Why, a recent Netflix series that depicts the suicide of a young woman, and its aftermath.

CMHA is concerned that the series may glamorize suicide, and that some content may lead to distress in viewers, and, particularly, in younger viewers. The portrayal does not follow the media guidelines as set out by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) and the American Association of Suicidology.

The reasons why an individual may die by suicide are complex. Stigma often prevents people from seeking help when they are feeling suicidal, and that's why it's important to raise awareness of this preventable public health concern. However, raising awareness needs to be done in a safe and responsible manner. A large and growing body of Canadian and international research has found clear links between increases in suicide rates and harmful media portrayals of suicide.

The following are ways in which portrayals of suicide may be harmful:

• They may simplify suicide, such as, by suggesting that bullying alone is the cause;

• They may make suicide seem romantic, such as, by putting it in the context of a Hollywood plot line;

• They may portray suicide as a logical or viable option;

• They may display graphic representations of suicide which may be harmful to viewers, especially young ones; and/or

• They may advance the false notion that suicides are a way to teach others a lesson.

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Guidelines from the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention are noted on their website, suicideprevention.ca, and discourage the following in dramatic portrayals of suicide in the media:

• Reporting specific details of the method;

• Descriptions of a suicide as unexplainable e.g., "He had everything going for him."

• Reporting romanticized versions of the reasons for the suicide(s), e.g., "We want to be together for all eternity."

• Simplistic reasons for the suicide, e.g., "Boy dies by suicide because he has to wear braces."

If your child has watched the series, please educate yourself and talk openly and in a supportive manner with your child about what he or she has observed. If you feel your child is curious and may likely watch the series on their own, offer to sit down and watch it with him or her, making sure that you leave time to talk afterward. Keep the above statements from the CASP and CMHA in mind as you discuss media's presentation of suicide, as well as ways that suicide can be prevented.

And keep in mind the following suicide warning signs from the CASP website:

• Suicide threats;

• Statements revealing a desire to die;

• Previous suicide attempts;

• Sudden changes in behaviour (withdrawal, apathy, moodiness);

• Depression (crying, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, hopelessness);

• Final arrangements (such as giving away personal possessions).

If you have questions or concerns, feel free to call and talk to one of our Interfaith Counselling Centre counsellors at 519-662-3092. If you are concerned that someone you know may be suicidal, there is 24-hour crisis help available in our region through Here 24/7 (1-844-437-3247). Suicide is preventable, and the way we talk about suicide and prevention is critical.


This column was written by counsellor Leslie Allaby and first appeared in the New Hamburg Independent: www.newhamburgindependent.ca

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