As kids head back to class, staff at BC Children’s Hospital want parents to be careful about the stress being put on teens.
Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and according to child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Tyler Black, this time of year can make teens extra anxious.
“This day falls around the first day of school… and we actually see an influx of children in psychiatric crisis around the start of school,” said Black.
“Kids need to be well prepared to handle this stress and we need to be checking in on them to see how they’re doing with what we’re giving them.”
Black worries about the glamorization of suicide in the media, including the hit Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.
“The first season I consider to be one of the worst examples of media not respecting the guidelines on suicide contagion reduction,” said Black.
“I have personally talked to children who presented to hospital entirely because of the distress of 13 Reasons Why.”
Suicide contagion refers to an increase in suicides after one is publicized or glamorized in popular media.
With school counsellors being one of the first resources kids have when they feel upset or depressed, Black is concerned that the show will make teens wary of reaching out.
“We’d really prefer if the trope of the unhelpful therapist was not such a prevalent thing as a plot device,” said Black. “People believe what they see on TV. I’d like to see help being portrayed as actually being helpful.”
The suicide scene of main character Hannah Baker was particularly harmful as it could inspire “copycat” deaths.
“We really worry about graphic portrayal… anytime media has portrayed a graphic suicide method, there have been imitative attempts after that,” Black said.
“The story of 13 Reasons Why could have been just as compelling without that graphic scene.”
It’s not that suicide should be hidden or never discussed, he said, but that it needs to be done in a “nuanced” way, particularly in media aimed at teens.
“Our message is trying to make sure that there aren’t unfiltered descriptions of suicide out there,” he said.
“Details about the death aren’t necessary, not over-glamorizing the person who died but maybe focusing a little bit on the impact on family and the help that’s available.”
Netflix has released a discussion guide on its series.
If you feel like you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.