Thinking About 13 Reasons Why – Episode 3

Click here to read Episode 1
Click here to read Episode 2

Before continuing with my thoughts about 13RW I think it is important to speak to those of you who are parents. I could go on and on about the importance of parents watching the show with their children but I discovered a piece that offers guidelines (13 of them) for watching and discussing the show with ones children. The following is an excerpt and a link to the full online article.

“13 Reasons Why” is a tough show, but it can definitely open up dialogue about important issues that our children face on a daily basis.

We need to make sure that our children know that they are loved and supported, even if what they need to tell us is difficult. The rate of child and teen suicide is growing, and as parents we need to be in tune with their struggles as much as we are able. We also need to be aware of the warning signs of high-risk and suicidal behavior.

Everyone believes that suicide is something that happens to someone else’s family, but we all need to be aware of the signs.…/a-parents-guide-to-watch…/

So what should we do given the popularity of the series 13 Reasons Why? We could sit around and wait for the next season. We could wax poetic about how we either liked the show or hated the show. We could also just shrug our shoulders and say “Eh!” But in the first episode of these postings I spoke of something called “postvention”. So let’s take a look at this thing called postvention. In no way is it intended this be an in depth look at the topic but by looking at some of the key concepts of postvention we can begin to form a response strategy to 13RW.

First of all what is postvention? To help me with this I am going to draw on a training developed by NAMI – Hew Hampshire called Connect. Connect is designed to train professionals and communities in suicide prevention and response. In short postvention is a series of planned interventions with those affected by a suicide in the community with the intention to:
• Facilitate the grieving and adjustment process,
• Stabilize the environment,
• Reduce the risk of negative behaviors,
• Limit the risk of further suicides through contagion.

It has been clearly demonstrated the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, peer group or community can result in an increase of suicide death and suicidal behaviors. Further, media reports of suicide deaths show a definite influence on suicidal behavior. In a manner of speaking it remains to be seen what effect Hannah’s death will have on the extended Netflix community – especially adolescents. It is important for us to remember that the intention of those who create dramatic presentations to have us identify with the characters in the work. Judging from what I have seen people writing about 13RW it appears the producers and cast did a good job at that. I am going to carry it a bit further by saying they did such a good job that those who have viewed 13RW, on a level are survivors of suicide loss. Please understand it is not my intention to minimize the pain felt by those whose lives have been impacted by suicide. Rather I am saying that those who watched 13RW are suffering a vicarious loss whose impact will depend on their level of identification with the characters presented.

Keeping this in mind, there has been a distinct correlation between media reporting of suicide death and consequent suicide rates. The months following the sensational media coverage of the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 studies have shown the suicide rate increased by as much as 12%. Following Kurt Cobain’s death from suicide in 1994, which also received abundant news coverage rates were not noticeably impacted and in some cases actually decreased as calls to crisis centers surged. Folks who study such things attribute this to the fact Cobain’s family and the media focused on mental health treatment, suicide prevention as well as the pain caused to the family by his death.

“So how does that affect me?” “What can I do? I am not a media person!” Well in our effort to limit suicide’s impact on our communities there is much we can do. The first step should be to look at how we talk about suicide. Some terms are preferred and more comfortable for those at risk and survivors of suicide loss. The appropriate use of terms when addressing suicide is not a matter of “Political Correctness” but a matter of understanding how we talk about suicide can influence those at risk or be hurtful to those who have had a loss. The goal is to use non-stigmatizing language. The following is a short listing of Stigmatizing vs. Non-stigmatizing phrases.

Stigmatizing Language                                    Non-stigmatizing Language
Commit suicide                                                 Die from suicide
Successful suicide                                             Ended or Took their own life
Failed suicide attempt                                     Non-fatal attempt
Unsuccessful suicide                                        Attempt to end their life
Completed suicide                                            Died from suicide
Suicidal person                                                 Person at risk of suicide
Suicide is a permanent solution                    Suicide is not a solution
to a temporary problem

I find that when I am talking to others during workshops I am able to ensure I “use the right words” by reminding myself suicide is a public health issue. For example: A person does not “commit cancer” they “die from cancer”. The last example is important for us to consider when talking with a person at risk. The phrase “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” minimizes and negates the feelings of a person who feels their situation and the pain induced is not temporary. Our message should be “Suicide is not a solution” to emphasize that there are other solutions.

Additionally, we can also become aware of the recommended practices of reporting about suicide. Studies have shown that inappropriate news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in individuals at risk. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration, and prominence of coverage. Covering suicide insightfully can reduce the risk of contagion, change public misconception, counter myths and, most importantly, encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.

While we may not be “reporters” we can observe when media reports addressing suicide do so inappropriately. Almost all news outlets have links that accept feedback. If you see a report that does not follow the accepted guidelines contact the entity and inform them they should adhere to the guidelines. Also it might be nice to thank them when they follow the guidelines.

A list of reporting best practices appears below. They are based on the concept “Avoid misinformation and offer hope”.

Instead of this Do this!

  • Big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement Inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide and minimize prominence
    Including photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials or funerals.
  • Use school/work or family photo; include hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers
  • Describing recent suicides as an “epidemic”, “skyrocketing,” or other strong terms. Carefully investigate the most recent CDC data and use non-sensational words like “rise” or “higher.”
  • Describing a suicide as inexplicable or “Without warning.” Most people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. Include posts or links to treatment services, warning signs and suicide hotlines in the article or adjacent to it.
    Investigating and reporting on suicide similar to reporting on crimes. Report on suicide as a public health issue.
  • Quoting/interviewing police or first responders about the causes of suicide.
  • Seek advice from suicide prevention experts.
  • Referring to suicide as “successful,” “unsuccessful” or a “failed attempt.” Use “died by suicide” or “killed themselves.”

So why such a big deal about messaging? As we mentioned previously inappropriate messaging can fuel a phenomenon called “Contagion”. Suicide contagion is the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, peer group, community or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors.

This may be a good time to take a break. In the next episode we will talk about contagion in greater depth and begin to look at ways to minimize its effect.

Click here to read Episode 4

*You Are Not Alone. If you are thinking thoughts about suicide please contact:, National Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-8255, International Resources


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