Ask a Therapist: Answering ‘13 Reasons Why’

Deck

Tiffany Johnson
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 5/26/20

Dear Ask A Therapist I am concerned about some of the themes in programs like “13 Reasons” and movies that relate to suicide. I tell my teens I will always be there for them, but what pointers …

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Ask a Therapist: Answering ‘13 Reasons Why’

Deck

Posted

Dear Ask A Therapist

I am concerned about some of the themes in programs like “13 Reasons” and movies that relate to suicide. I tell my teens I will always be there for them, but what pointers can give them to reinforce strong values needed during their formative years and into adulthood?

Dear reader,

The show “13 Reasons Why” has been controversial for the past few years. The first season depicts a teenage girl who dies by suicide by engaging in self-harm. The show is titled “13 Reasons Why” because the main character who dies sends out tapes to those who “did her wrong” throughout her life letting them know that they are part of the reason she killed herself. The next two seasons play off season one and reveal the aftermath of suicide, and the hurt it causes those who are involved.

Although this show highlights many issues teens face today such as bullying, self-harm, sexual assault, substance use, and social conformity, the show seems to “simplify” and “glamorize” suicide.

The controversy of this show, and other related films, stems from the fact that it highlights the serious issue and concern of suicide amongst teens, which is in the top five causes of death amongst this population, while also glamorizing this behavior and blaming others.

The perceived message is that the main character’s cause of death was due to others’ behavior toward her rather than taking responsibility for her own actions and communicating her thoughts and feelings with someone who can help. For most teens, it is normal to think about suicide now and then. However, when suicide becomes a preoccupation and feelings of depression sustain for many days, it is important for teens to talk to someone about how they feel.

The show also depicts adults and school counselors or staff as not helpful. There is an underlying message that if you are suicidal there is no adult who will help you, which is clearly untrue, especially where support systems are emphasized.

I was a therapist with Community Reach Center’s school-based therapy program for four years. Community Reach Center has therapists in many of the schools in Adams County. School-based therapists make effective connections with students, so they will reach out for help when they need it. If you are feeling concerned, uneasy or stressed about your student, please reach out to your school counselors, they are trained to help.

If your teens are interested in watching 13 Reasons Why, or other programs related to suicide, here are a few pointers:

• Prepare for the show: This is a good time to start a conversation about suicidal ideation and self-harm. Let your child know you are always open to listening to them. Often adults think if they talk about suicidal ideation or self-harm, it will put the idea in their minds and will make them want to do it, when, according to trusted research, this actually minimizes risk.

• The communication skills young people learn right now about how to share their thoughts and feelings are the patterns they carry into adulthood. The safer they feel to share feelings with a parent or an adult without being judged or worried about “getting in trouble,” the more that we can keep them safe.

• Watch the show with them: Discuss questions and concerns they may have. You will be able to weed out what may be more applicable to the teen versus what is glamorized.

• Ask your child regularly how they are feeling, using open ended questions - this way they cannot always answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”

• Share stories of what life was like for you as a teenager and make this an opportunity for you to relate and connect. Sometimes they don’t want to hear those stories, so wait for the right moment and choose stories that model resilience and trust in one another.

Tiffany Johnson, MA, LPC, is a school-based manager for Brighton School District, 27J. She worked primarily with K-8 students as a school-based therapist for 4 years and has recently transitioned into the manager role. Tiffany loves working with children and spends her free time outside - hiking and running.

Please submit your questions to Ask A Therapist at AskATherapist@CommunityReachCenter.org This column is for educational purposes only, and opinions are not necessarily those of this publication. Answers are not a substitute for regular or urgent medical consultation and treatment. Individuals with medical or personal problems need to seek the advice of their own physician or an appropriate health-care professional. Do not stop any medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician. If you are experiencing a crisis call 911 or the Behavioral Health Urgent Care at 1-844-493-TALK (8255). To learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in Adams and Broomfield counties, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500.

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