By: Cale Bloskas
The new Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” has recently started a national controversy on the responsibility the media should take on what they show, and how their viewers react. Many fear that the Netflix series has overstepped the line of what is appropriate to show on television, but others feel it has started a conversation that was long overdue.
“13 Reasons Why” is based off a book with the same name that tells the story of a high school student, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. Before taking her life, Hannah recorded 13 tapes explaining the 13 things, or reasons, that led to her suicide. The series walks viewers through those tapes and the impact they had on students she went to school with. One of the most controversial scenes in the series is a scene in the last episode that shows Hannah’s suicide in graphic detail.
The series brings awareness to mental health, bullying, and suicide prevention at a time when four students have taken their life on Eastern New Mexico University’s (ENMU) campus in the past two semesters. With only four suicides on campus in the previous 10 years combined, bringing awareness to mental illness and suicide prevention is something that has become an immediate concern of students, faculty and the administration at ENMU.
A few years ago, Cornell University experienced a similar rise in suicides on their campus. Dr. Gregory Eells was the director of Counseling & Psychological Services on Cornell’s campus during that time and said after watching “13 Reasons Why”, there were several damaging aspects to the series that might have an impact on viewers who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts. Eelss said, “My primary concerns about the show is that it romanticizes Hannah’s suicide. I also find it troubling that the counselor is portrayed as disingenuous and not helpful. These messages are problematic given the finality of suicide and the science that counseling is helpful and significantly reduces the risk of suicide.”
Although there are negative aspects of the series, almost everyone agrees that there are important lessons to be learned from. Though the presentation might be controversial, the underlining issues involved have started a conversation and brought awareness to issues like bullying and mental illness.
Junior, elementary education major at ENMU, Ashlynn Idsinga said that “13 Reasons Why” has taught her several valuable lessons about students who might be struggling. Idsinga said, “Everyone has different personalities, and may react differently to even a joking comment. We all need to be cautious with our words and actions. Some people have made comments that the show glorifies the idea of suicide, but from what I have seen it shows the hurt and pain it causes those close to you. I hope it shows people with suicidal thoughts that they are not invisible – that they are valued.”
The series has helped viewers see the impact bullying can have on someone’s emotions, but disregards the mental health issues that were involved with the character who committed suicide. Instead of focusing on mental illness and providing hope to those struggling, the show blames others and glorifies the act of suicide. Mental illness and suicide are things that need to be discussed openly on campus in order for a positive impact to be made.
Director of Counseling and Career Services at ENMU, Susan Larsen, said that one of the main reasons she believes this has become an issue on campus and across the country is because of the negative stigma surrounding mental illness. Larsen said, “There is a negative stigma surround mental illness all over the nation and even here at ENMU… with students coming to college with more mental illness, abuse and addictions than ever, these issues need to be discussed.”
Mental illness is not a problem that is going to go away and is something that many people struggle with silently their whole lives. Several national campaigns are striving to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. One of those organizations, Project Wake Up, aims to end the stigma by recognizing that the first step to change is to start the conversation. President and founder of Project Wake Up, Alex Lindley said it is important to remember that, “Nobody chooses to have a mental illness, but people can choose how they react to it… how we react can have a positive impact on ending the stigma and starting the conversation that helps students.”
Lindley said that one of their most effective initiatives has begun on Missouri University’s campus and is equipping students with proper response training. Often, students are afraid to go to a professional and will reach out to their peers first.
Counseling and Career Services on ENMU campus has a similar training that they give to all resident assistants (RAs) in the dorms. One of these RAs, Andrew Case, said “…Counseling and Career Services has done an excellent job of preparing us for situations where we need to help.” Case stated that RAs are often the first responders to student crisis and the training they receive is intended to help them know what to do when students need immediate help.
Seeking immediate professional help is essential if students know of someone who is struggling with severe depression or suicidal thoughts. When encountering someone who is struggling with these thoughts, it is important to:
- Assess for risk of suicide or harm
- Listen non-judgmentally (take to a private place if possible)
- Give reassurance and information
- Encourage appropriate professional help
- Encourage self-help and other non-professional support strategies.
Students who are experiencing suicidal thoughts are encouraged to contact ENMU Counseling and Career Service’s 24-hour hotline at 575-607-5689, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Students needing less immediate help can contact Counseling and Career Services at 575-562-2211 or room 232 in the Student Academic Services (SAS) Building.