There has been substantial media coverage of the Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why. The drama, about a schoolgirl who ends her life after a series of upsetting events and the effect this has on the people she leaves behind, has been accused of inaccurately portraying, or even glamourising, suicide.
Here, Dr Alys Cole-King Clinical Director, of the Social Enterprise Connecting with People, and Dr Stan Kutcher, Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health, offer advice to parents on talking to their children about the programme and its difficult subject matter
Suicide is a tragic but rare event. Young people need to know that many people become distressed and have thoughts of suicide, but with the right support they can get through the tough times.
The majority of young people who end their lives by suicide are not in touch with mental health services around the time of their death, even though many are suffering from problems that would benefit from receiving mental health care or support.
However, most are in contact with someone who could provide an opportunity to support them and who can help them access the care they need. For those young people at risk of suicide, connecting with an empathic, confident and competent person could be their tipping point back to safety, when they start to receive and accept help to deal with their problems and find a way forward.
What parents can do
- If your child is watching 13 Reasons Why, have a conversation with them about the series and discuss their feelings and thoughts about it. Open up a channel of communication in case they do become affected or concerned, so that they know they can talk to you now or in the future if an issue crops up.
- Remind them that 13 Reasons Why is a made-up story and not based on a real person. Reassure them that the majority of people who experience bullying, the serious injury or death of a friend, a sexual assault or other bad experiences, have other ways of coping and getting support.
- Talk about how people think about suicide when they are in a huge amount of emotional pain and feel they don’t know what else to do, but that, actually, there are so many things that they could do, if only they knew what, or who to contact for support.
- Emphasise that the most important thing to do is to speak to someone – and that they can speak to you any time now, or in the future
- Above all, help them see that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available. This is particularly important for adolescents who are isolated, struggling, or vulnerable to suggestive images and storylines.
If your child is actively distressed or talking about suicide
- Reassure them that you are taking them seriously.
- Find out how they would like to be supported. The young person may want support from their parent or carer but may feel more comfortable seeing this from another trusted adult.
- Avoid statements that could be perceived as minimising their distress such as ‘Surely it’s not that bad,’, ‘Come on now... you need to get over this.’ Or ‘You have no reason to feel like this.'
- Let them know that there is help for them and they will not feel like this forever.
- Never agree to keep suicidal thoughts a secret, and always support them to seek support or seek assistance on their behalf.
- Provide support and supervision as required. If you are worried they may hurt themselves, remove anything they could use to do this from their immediate vicinity.
- Do not leave the person alone until you think it is safe to do so. This means:
- you are certain that their distress or intent to self-harm or attempt to take their life has passed.
- they have received additional support or an assessment from a suitably qualified person. To do this, take them to a health care provider who has the skills needed to help. In a crisis, this may be your closest A and E Department.
See http://www.connectingwithpeople.org/StayingSafe for specific advice and guidance on who to approach if you are worried about a young person in distress
Connecting with People have produced a series of leaflets on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, providing information for both individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts and those who are concerned. These are available through the Royal College of Psychiatrists or the Connecting with People website: http://Connectingwithpeople.org/ucancope.
Contact the Samaritans Telephone: 116 123 (Calls are free; lines open 24 hours a day); www.samaritans.org
Children and young people can also call Childline: 0800 1111 (calls are free; lines open 24 hours a day), or have an online chat with a counsellor at www.childline.org.uk.