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'13 Reasons Why' you need to know about preventing teen suicide

May 09, 2017

When media report about counselors who respond to a tragic event impacting a school, it’s often our team to which they are referring. The Grant Wood AEA Critical Incident Stress Management Team has responded to an average of three suicide deaths annually the past six years. We have witnessed the significant impact of suicide death and that’s why we’re concerned about ensuring parents, educators and all caring individuals are prepared to talk about a new, popular TV show, “13 Reasons Why” with their children, and are familiar with steps they can take to prevent teen suicide.

“13 Reasons Why” is a series on Netflix that has been highlighted in many media reports since its release. We applaud the efforts of producer Selena Gomez in her advocacy for mental health awareness. We know that removing the stigma of mental illness is essential in preventing suicide death along with providing easy and affordable access to quality mental health services. While “13 Reasons Why” has opened a much needed conversation about teen suicide, the series does not inform the audience or make reference to depression or mental illness, predominate factors in individuals who have suicidal thoughts, made attempts or have died by suicide. The “13 Reasons Why” series does not inform or promote any viable alternatives to suicide. This is concerning because we know that there are steps we can take to help prevent suicide death.

In collaboration with Foundation 2 Crisis Center, we have come up with “13 Ways You Can Help a Person Who Might Be Suicidal…”

1: You can listen. People who are hurting emotionally don’t need advice as much as they need someone to truly listen to what they are going through and how they see their world. You can let them know you want to understand.

2: You can ask them directly if suicide is something they have been thinking about. This is a very important step. Many people need you to be the first to bring up the word...that way they know you are a safe person to tell.

3: You can be honest and genuine and tell them you are scared and worried about the way that they are feeling.

4: Because you want to be a safe person to talk with, you can avoid telling them they shouldn’t feel that way, or that things aren’t as bad as they seem. Statements like that only make people feel misunderstood.

5: You can say “I am sorry to know you are hurting so much, it must be very hard right now to believe things can change.”

6: You can let the person know that they matter.

7: You can honestly tell them there is no one just like them in the world and they can’t be replaced.

8: Along with the person at risk, you can start a list of who else should know how they feel, and who else can offer help.

9: Let them know that many other people who have felt this low have gotten better with time and support, there is reason for hope.

10: You can offer to go to see a counselor with them, or stay with them while they call a crisis line.

11: You can ask about what they have thought of doing to themselves and try to make sure they don’t have access to a gun or pills or other possible deadly means.

12: You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to get more ideas for how to help. Call (800) 273-8255 or text 741-741 for help. Foundation 2 offers a local crisis line (800) 332-4224.

13: You can review the list of who else can be of help and start contacting them to help keep the person safe.

There is hope. Help is available. You can make a difference.

• Katy Kramer Lee, is a Grant Wood AEA School Social Worker and Critical Incident Stress Management Team Coordinator. Cheryl Plotz is Foundation 2 Crisis Center program manager.

 You can also read this blog online here.

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