Show sparks conversation: ’13 Reasons Why’ has teens, adults talking about suicide

By Hollyann Gardner
Times-News correspondent

The TV show, "13 Reasons Why," has sparked the conversation about teen suicide. / Photo illustration by Metro Creative Graphics

Netflix’s popular TV show, “13 Reasons Why,” has sparked conversations among teens and adults alike all around the world. The storyline follows Hannah Baker, a high-schooler who has committed suicide, and she leaves tapes explaining the reasons why. This show has brought more awareness to suicide and what leads to it.
Doug Haddad, award-winning educator, “Teacher of the Year” for his school district, an Ambassador for Education in Connecticut and author of the book, “The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies for Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential,” relayed information about the serious topic of teen suicide and brings the issue to light.
“I’ve been working with kids in their teens and tweens for 20 years, and I worked as a teacher, a coach, a mentor, and actually there’s been more of a growing rate of kids who are depressed and suicidal,” Haddad said.
How can we help? First, we have to spot the warning signs that someone is severely depressed or suicidal.
“I would say that some of the signs are certainly where there is this chronic persistent anxiety or sadness,” Haddad said. “Or it could be complete apathy — so they’re without really any emotion at all. I also see kids who have a complete change in appearance, and also, there’s less care or interest in things that were once pleasurable to them.”
Haddad shared some personal stories about kids he saw firsthand battling these issues.
“Today we were building a skeleton,” he said, “and one kid who we have some concerns with said ‘I don’t who who has more inside them, the skeleton or me.’ ”
Constant self-deprecating comments like these are definitely a huge suggestion that someone is battling suicidal thoughts. So is how they interact with others.
“Unfortunately, there was a student years ago when I was first a teacher, and I was the last person they saw in the building before they took their own life,” Haddad said. “They said things like ‘Goodbye, Mr. Haddad, thank you for everything.’ So that may be the warning sign — when they act like this is the last time they are going to see you.”
Social media and smartphones are a huge influence in teens in today’s day and age. With just a few taps teens can leave hateful comments, destroy people’s reputation and send their peers into spirals of mental distress, sometimes all while remaining anonymous.
“On social media, that’s really the big concern,” Haddad said. ‘In the past three to five years, there has been an increased amount of kids who have committed suicide due to cyberbullying. The Internet is there 24/7. It never shuts off. Kids feel like there is no escape, and everyone is laughing at them. That’s how bullying can really turn into suicide.”
The victimized teen can also use social media to hurt themselves.
“Nowadays kids can cry out through (social media),” Haddad said. “They say things like ‘I don’t want to live anymore,’ ‘I hate my life,’ ‘I’d be better off dead,’ ‘There’s no hope’ and all different things in that regard.”
In-person bullying as well is a huge asset to teen suicide.
“When you feel like you have no one who can stand up for you, and when everyone is just sitting there — that’s part of the problem. There is the bystander and then the actual bully.”
Let’s say you have a concern about a friend who is showing signs of being depressed or suicidal. How do you even start a conversation about such a serious topic?
Haddad said that you must make it clear that the person you are concerned about is the most important thing right now and you are here to help. You aren’t here to judge them, or even try to understand what they’re going through. Tell them that you will help however you can, and you can get help from other sources, such as school counselors and the Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255.
Haddad relayed the message that we are all human and we must fight for each other and treat each other with kindness. Together, we can make the depression and suicide rate go down.

Hollyann Gardner is a rising home-schooled sophomore and a Teens & 20s writer.

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