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Apr 21, 2017 8:38 AM

How '13 Reasons Why' doesn't properly teach students to deal with suicide

The new hit Netflix series "13 Reasons Why," raised concerns with many New Hampshire schools, prompting them to promote awareness on the issue of teen suicide.

This series is based on the book that was released 10 years ago. It follows a group of high school students as they follow the story that was left behind for them by their classmate who killed herself.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness of New Hampshire sent a release to schools around the state, including a drafted parent letter, regarding the show and it's "sensationalized" conception of teen suicide.

The Oyster River School District was one of many schools in the state that sent an email to parents to inform them of the series release, its connection with teen suicide and its "misleading" nature.

"The trailer and advertisements for the series can be misleading," ORSD School Counseling Department wrote in the letter. "In watching the series, young people and teenagers could perceive the message that suicide is a viable and/or romanticized option."

People often identify with characters they see on TV or in movies, so ORSD wanted to emphasize that despite the main character's heroic appearance in the show, suicide is never a heroic or romantic act and it should be viewed as a tragedy.

The letter highlights several of the series shortcomings, specifically aspects in the show where teens are not fully informed of the resources available to them, especially if they found themselves in a similar situation.

Another serious issue with the series is it's failure to highlight the possibility of mental illness, and how to handle it, according to ORSD High School Director of Counseling Heather Machanoff.

"Suicide is a series of things to happen," Machanoff said. "It's not an isolated situation like the series leads on."

The content of the series has been described as extremely graphic with troubling scenes throughout each episode, in particular near the end of the series, which may be difficult for the teenage mind to watch and process in an appropriate way.

READ: Here's how to block your children from watching certain shows on Netflix

Machanoff said the department is by no means saying don't watch the series, but instead, to have parents handle it in a healthy way. Rather, the school recommends parents talk with their children about the series and provided a list of talking points to help ease conversation around the sensitive subject.

"As counselors, it's second nature for us to say something," Machanoff said. "The tips are meant for those who are uncomfortable talking about the issue."

An important thing to remember with mental illness is not to immediately diagnose a student but rather facilitate in making the student feel safe and providing the resources to do so, Machanoff said.

Parents should understand that the series is not meant to be an educational film, and its message does not comply with health recommendations for treating mental health, and/or trauma, or preventing suicide, the letter states.

The school counseling department recommends that parents reassure their children of their love and support and to remind them that there is no problem too great to be handled, they wrote in the letter.

During school hours throughout the school year, school counselors are available to meet with any students or parents who are concerned about themselves or a peer.

Counselors at the ORCSD are trained with NAMI's Connect Suicide Prevention Program. The program provides customized training and interaction with experts in the field of suicide prevention and postvention, which helps to bridge the gap between the community and the professionals.

Help is always there, if you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, depression or suicidal thoughts, the list below includes several resources available in the Granite State.

Additional Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

- The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or Confidential Online-Chat

- The National Sexual Assault Hotline provides 24/7, free and confidential support to sexual assault survivors and their loved ones.

Haven 24/7 Confidential Hotline 603-994-SAFE (7233)

- Haven is the local sexual assault/domestic violence agency for our region in NH. The Haven hotline will connect you with a local trained advocate who provides judgment-free emotional support and local referrals for anyone impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault. You DO NOT need to be in crisis to call.

Community Partners - 63-516-9300

- Community Partners provides comprehensive mental health and substance use services, psychiatric treatment, acute care, medication services, emergency intervention, and family support services for adults, children, adolescents and families in the Seacoast area.

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