D-51 letter addresses '13 Reasons Why' concerns

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) -- School District 51 leaders are worried a popular Netflix series may be romanticizing suicide, to an already at-risk group.

The series called “13 Reasons Why” depicts graphic scenarios of rape and suicide, while weaving the web of bullying around the main character.

D-51 is reaching out to make some talking points available to families.

The school district urges everyone to talk to kids talk openly about suicide and depression, regardless of whether they've seen the show.

The school included a resource from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), which we have linked on the right side of this screen.

The district's full letter to families is below:

April 27, 2017

Dear School District 51 Families:

I am writing to you today in regards to a recently released Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” which has become a concern for us at School District 51.

This show relates to the very sensitive topics of teen suicide and depression. The series is based on the best-selling fiction book by Jay Asher and follows teenager Clay Jensen as he returns home to find a box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers a group of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate, who tragically completed suicide two weeks earlier. The recordings detail the thirteen reasons why Hannah died by suicide. The series has been rated TV-MA for mature audiences, however, many middle school-aged and high school-aged children have been viewing the series.

While we should by no means avoid the discussion of mental health issues, there are helpful ways and harmful ways to portray or talk about suicide and mental illness. The series presents the aftermath of a suicide in a captivating and dramatic fashion. Critics have expressed concerns that the series doesn’t treat the very real problem of teen suicide seriously or realistically and that the series romanticizes teen suicide, which can lead young people as well as adults who are considering suicide or may be at risk to believe it’s OK to repeat the actions portrayed in the show.

If your child has already viewed the series, we would encourage you to consider beginning a discussion about the series with your child. Suicide Awareness of Voices in Education (SAVE) has published an article titled “Talking Points for New Netflix Series - 13 Reasons Why.” This piece, available here, can assist you in starting a conversation with your child if you are looking for guidance.

If your child has not yet watched “13 Reasons Why ” there are several professional mental health organizations that have expressed concerns about the series and recommended against watching it. If you have concerns about your child viewing this or other TV-MA shows on Netflix, and you are looking for information regarding Parental Controls, please click here for help with making adjustments.

Please reach out immediately if you ever feel like your child needs support or someone to talk to. Please contact your child’s guidance counselor, school psychologists or a school administrator, and we will make sure we get your child the help and support he or she needs.

Another great way for parents or peers to get help for a person they believe is struggling with depression or any other mental illness and may be suicidal is to contact Safe2Tell by downloading the Safe2Tell app from the Apple or Google Play app store, reporting online at safe2tell.org, or calling 1-877-542-7233. Safe2Tell is completely anonymous and will immediately send your tip to 911 and school security and administration. Safe2Tell has saved lives and reports have allowed law enforcement and medical personnel to reach a person during a suicide attempt and prevent them from completing.
Additionally, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 or reach Colorado Crisis Services by texting TALK to 38255, calling 1-844-493-TALK (8255), or clicking “Chat Now” at coloradocrisisservices.org. The Mind Springs Health Crisis Line is also available at 1-888-207-4004. All of these services are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Please help our community reduce the stigma of mental illness and suicide by discussing suicide as a public health concern. It is normal and responsible to grieve those we have lost without inadvertently romanticizing their death so that those who are still struggling with mental illness or suicidal thoughts do not erroneously believe death is the only way to feel loved or recognized. Do not be afraid to ask someone directly if he or she is considering suicide. Research shows this does not put the idea in their mind, and it can be a relief for them to know someone will listen without judgment and assist them in getting help.

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available at 1-800-273-8255, warning signs that a person may attempt suicide include:

 Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
 Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
 Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
 Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
 Talking about being a burden to others
 Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
 Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
 Sleeping too little or too much
 Withdrawing or isolating themselves
 Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
 Extreme mood swings

Also, attached to this email is a letter from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) regarding “13 Reasons Why.” It provides guidance for educators and families and may also be found here. Guidelines for best practices in media portrayals and coverage of suicide are available here.

Thank you, as always, for your continued partnership and for taking the time to read this email. We care deeply about every child in each one of our schools and welcome the opportunity to work with you each day to ensure the success of your child.

School District 51 Leadership

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