‘13 Reasons Why’ forces response from Las Vegas schools on teen suicide

“Get a snack. Settle in. Because I’m about to tell you the story of my life — more specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to this tape: you’re one of the reasons why.”

That’s the posthumous voice of the fictional character Hannah Baker in the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”

In the show, the high school teenager struggles with bullying and a litany of other problems. She slits her wrists, but not before leaving behind 13 tapes for her peers — one for each person who somehow affected her decision to kill herself.

The show has sparked responses from districts across the country, including the Clark County School District, which issued an advisory to parents this week about the series.

Experts say the show has ignited a heated debate: that it either brings up suicide as an important topic of discussion, or encourages it for impressionable teens.

Jonathan Singer, author of “Suicide in Schools” and a board member of the American Association of Suicidology, likens the show to a fork.

“You can either use it to eat salad,” he said, “or you can use it to stab somebody with it.”

He said school districts are absolutely doing the right thing about alerting parents to the show.

“Their intention was to have this be a suicide prevention piece, but they missed the mark,” Singer said of the show’s creators. “They in fact did something that could increase risk for kids already at risk for suicide.”

Singer said there’s 30 years of research to show that “graphic and sensationalized” depictions of suicide in the media increase instances of suicide in the months following those images.

Netflix has apparently heard the concern — the service announced it will add a viewer warning before the first episode for those who are about to start watching the series, USA Today and other news outlets reported this week.

But Palo Verde High senior Simran Sodhi, whose brother killed himself last year at age 13, believes the show serves a strong purpose.

“Personally, I actually enjoyed the show just because suicide isn’t really in the media a lot,” she said. “I feel like the media tries to (steer) away from it just because it’s a very sensitive topic.”

She said the show can help kids understand that their words and actions do hurt other people.

Sodhi’s family saw no risks of suicide in her brother, she said. Now, her family is committed to raising awareness.

“I think especially younger kids should be introduced to the idea that hey, suicide does happen, and just be aware of how you treat people,” she said.

Perhaps the show has stirred so much concern because it’s eerily close to reality — for one, Hannah’s fictional parents sue the district after her death, which has happened in Clark County.

Joe Roberts, coordinator for the district’s Department of Student Threat and Crisis Response, said his office has had a few phone calls from schools about students watching or discussing the show.

Students in eighth and ninth grade go through a mandatory program on suicide prevention, Roberts said. The program encourage students to speak up if their friends are showing signs of suicide.

“That is the best thing someone’s friend can do for their classmates,” Roberts said. “Not hide it, not talk about it, but actually go forward and acknowledge that their friend is hurting.”

On Education appears every other Saturday. Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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