Using “13 Reasons Why” as a Tool to Expand the Conversation About Suicide Prevention: Kaye Randall

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RANDALL150Kaye Randall is a nationally-known author and speaker who has led professional seminars throughout North America on student mental health, bullying, self-injury, depression, anxiety and anger – as well as youth leadership and student empowerment.  The former Training Director for the University of South Carolina Center for Child & Family Studies, Kaye has inspired seminar participants through her practical insights, humor and proactive strategies for helping children and adolescents. She continues to provide clinical services to both children and adolescents and has been named social worker of the year by the Council on Adoptable Children. She is co-author of See My Pain, Creative Strategies & Activities for Helping Young People Who Self-Injure (featured in USA Today), 102 Creative Strategies for Working with Depressed Children & Adolescents, and Mean Girls: 101½ Creative Strategies and Activities for Working with Relational Aggression.

13reasonswhy15013 Reasons Why – Teacher Discussion Guide

13 Reasons Why is a trending Netflix series based on the book series by Jay Asher that many of our youth are watching. After a teenage girl commits suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that identify the people and reasons for her suicide. However well-intentioned the producers may have been when creating this series from the book, there is great concern among many professionals about the potential negative impact on our youth. Through the glamorization of teen suicide and the negative portrayal of the helping experience, the concern is that there will be an increase in self-harming and or suicidal behaviors and a decrease in help-seeking behaviors.

We can use this trending topic as an opportunity to expand the conversation about suicide prevention and examine how OUR students perceive the topic of suicide and help us look at and improve our existing framework.

What Can Teachers Do?

For many this series is bringing up topics of conversation such as suicide, self-harm, bullying, sexual assault, and the choices we may make.  Responding to this in a productive and healing way is vitally important. Teachers are in a unique position to have classroom conversations about this series. This is an opportunity to check in with student perceptions and evaluations of the series and to possibly reset any misperceptions surrounding what they have watched including the process of seeking help. Classroom discussions may also create a shared connection in finding solutions in improving the prevention process and in helping each other through the challenges of life.

Suggestions for Teachers  – Responding to 13 Reasons Why

There are many ways to approach the discussion of suicide and how it is portrayed in the series. The following suggestions set up an initial broader context within which to have this conversation with your students.

  1. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, it is important to check in with your school counselor and or administrators to see if there is a coordinated response planned to the faculty, staff, parents and students.
  2. It is important that you share with the school counselor your desire to either have or be prepared to have conversations in your classroom surrounding the series. They may have suggestions that may support you. In addition, making the school counselor aware will help in preparation should a student become concerned or triggered by the conversation.
  3. Think about how you want to guide the conversation. Initially keep the conversation to a broader context of examining the topic of suicide and how it is portrayed in the series. What did they think of the series? What did they come away with?
  4. What did they think was working in the context of suicide prevention and what wasn’t working to support prevention? You could compare and contrast with how they think things are handled in their school. What is working and not working in their own school setting? Family setting?
  5. Discuss the portrayal of the second school counselor…this is an opportunity to reset the narrative and to encourage help-seeking behavior.
  6. What could we/they do to support change?
  7. Close with a reminder about taking care of ourselves, the necessity to reach out for help and to notice, reach out and help others.
  8. Encourage students to talk to you or the school counselor if any feelings surface that are concerning or triggering based on the conversations.

We can choose to respond to 13 Reasons Why in a way that expands the conversation about suicide prevention and is also productive and healing in nature.  As suicide is now the second leading cause of death among our youth, we as professionals also need to expand how we approach this preventable problem hurting our youth. We are all involved in the solution.

There is Always HOPE!


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