Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Mich. students respond to controversial Netflix series with project to help prevent teen suicide

Oxford, Mich. (Best Places map)
In the Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why," based on the novel of the same name, 13 people receive messages from a teenage girl who committed suicide, detailing how each person played a part in her fatal decision. A group of high-school students in Oxford, Mich., have responded to the series with a project, "13 Reasons Why Not," which they hope will help classmates who are struggling and contemplating suicide, Colby Itkowitz reports for The Washington Post.

Each school day since May 1, a student’s recording of his or her painful story has played over the loudspeakers at Oxford High School, Itkowitz writes. Students "volunteered to share vulnerable and difficult stories about their lives, but instead of using their tapes to blame someone for their negative experiences, they single out a person who has been kind to them, who has helped make life worth living."

Riley Juntti, the first student to have her tape played, told Itkowitz, “I think the show accurately depicted what happens in high school … the problem we had with the show is it made it seem like suicide was the only option and didn’t raise mental health awareness and it didn’t give resources. That was very troubling for us; we wanted to fix that with our project.”

Only the students involved in the project knew the tapes were going to be played, Itkowitz writes. In hers, Juntti describes an emotionally and physically abusive relationship and "talks about threats to her and her friends, and how she grew accustomed to hearing that she was worthless or better off dead until she eventually believed it. But then, instead of naming the person who hurt her, she names a friend who 'saw her when no one else did.'" Juntti, who said they have not received any negative response to the project, said that since the tapes have been played, "tardiness has gone down in first period, the hallways are silent and everyone is in their classrooms eager to listen."

The National Association of School Psychologists has recommended that "vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation," not watch the series. "Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies."

Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that suicide rates among women "have increased every age cohort except those older than 75 since 1999, with the largest increase being among girls ages 10 to 14," Itkowitz notes.

Anderson County, Kentucky
UPDATE, June 15: The middle school in Anderson County, Kentucky, banned the book on which the series was based. Part of it was used in an enrichment class last year. “The advertisement of the series played a factor in the decision to no longer use the book,” Supt. Sheila Mitchell told the newspaper. “Also, the manner in which the book was beginning to be used for fall 2016 was not the original intent, so the principal informed the teacher to find other resources to support the concept.”

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