13 Reasons Why and Adolescent Suicide
Today marks the day that the second season of the Netflix TV show '13 Reasons Why' is released. In the psychology community, this show is heavily discussed and criticized due to its portrayal of suicide. Specifically, many believe that 13 Reasons Why glorifies adolescent suicide and provides specific instructions on how to commit suicide for those experiencing suicidal ideation (i.e., thoughts of suicide). There have been many different articles on the subject including articles by Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, and Psychology Today.
This is an incredibly important conversation at the moment due to the rise in suicide and suicidal behavior in adolescents and young adults. Right now, suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents. As reported in a recent National Public Radio (NPR) article, new research indicates that the number of youth who present to hospitals for suicidal ideation or suicide attempts has doubled from 2008 to 2015.
That is a very scary statistic and it is difficult to understand why exactly this has occurred. Hopefully for one, it means that more youth who are feeling suicidal are actually reaching out for help due to decreased stigma. However, as the number of adolescent suicides has been increasing in recent years, it appears that other factors are also at play.
The rise in suicides and suicidal behavior in youth brings us back to 13 Reasons Why. One of the reasons why suicides are believed to be on the rise is due to a concept called suicide contagion. Essentially this concept refers to the observation that with increased knowledge and exposure to suicide from media and other sources, observers will increasingly believe that suicide is an acceptable method to resolve a problem and may try to copy individuals whose suicide attempts have been covered in the media or elsewhere.
However, the phenomenon of suicide contagion can only partially explain the rise in adolescent suicides. Other factors may include the rise of cyber bullying and increased pressure at school for adolescents today compared to years past.
Thankfully some communities and organizations are taking the public health issue of adolescent suicide seriously. A separate article by NPR discusses how suicide is not simply an individual mental health concern and how adolescent suicide can be more effectively addressed at the school level. School interventions can include routinely assessing for suicidal ideation, making mental health providers easily accessible to students, and creating a school climate that does not tolerate bullying or discrimination and instead fosters a warm and welcoming climate.
It will take a lot of work by a lot of people to effectively combat this rise in suicide. Hopefully, awareness of what is effective and ineffective in preventing suicide will help save lives.
If your child sees a show such as 13 Reasons Why, either with or without your permission, please make sure to follow up with your child and have a conversation about why suicide is not an appropriate solution for problems experienced. Discuss what other options adolescents have to manage problems they encounter. You should feel comfortable asking your child if s/he is having thoughts of suicide or death/dying. The research is clear that having these conversations does not make someone more likely to attempt suicide later, and can in fact save lives. While these conversations may be anxiety provoking for both the parent and the child, it is important that we are all being proactive to help prevent as many suicides as possible. With so many messages about suicide in the media, it is important that parents ensure that their children are receiving accurate information about suicide.
Even one death to suicide is one too many. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are resources available such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255), the Trevor Project for LGBT+ youth (866-488-7386), or 911 if it is an emergency.
The Clinically Relevant Insights Blog, part of ShawnWilsonPhD.com, shares news and research regarding psychology and wellness.