Dr. Carmen McIntyre

Nearly one out of every 5 youth will suffer from emotional, behavioral, or substance use disorders, with many more experiencing related symptoms.  The most common symptoms are related to substance abuse, anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorders.

According to the research, 8% of adolescents suffer from severe depression.  Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24.  The risks are real:

-Nearly 14% of high school students said they had seriously considered suicide.

-11% had made plans for suicide.

-6% had attempted suicide in the past year.

-2% had an attempt that required treatment.

Recently, the internet video site Netflix released a series called 13 Reasons Why (13RW), based on a 2007 Jay Asher young adult novel.  Both novel and series feature a young male character who receives a series of cassette tapes from a young lady who has recently suicided.  There were 13 wrongs that led to the suicide.

While the novel served as a cautionary tale, ending with one youth reaching out to another who was struggling, the Netflix series is not nearly so noble.  The series is far more lurid and exaggerated, highlighting vengeance.  It vividly depicts acts of selfishness and betrayal without giving a true sense of the young victim’s despair.  Instead her act seems cold and calculating.  The series is compelling through its use mystery and cliffhangers, explicit sex and nudity; not because it sends a message of recovery and redemption.

I get it.  This is “entertainment”, made for sales, not for education. But I’m extremely disturbed by it.  This entertainment features adolescents and has been highly watched by high school students and young adults.  It does nothing to deliver a message of hope.  Help is available, and recovery is real.  There are no prominent warnings (other than those you usually see with ratings) of the graphic nature of the events depicted, nor any attempt to refer people who are struggling toward avenues for treatment, or for reporting bullying for most of the series episodes  Later episodes begin with a brief visual warning regarding depictions of rape, violence and suicide.  I think much more is needed given the target population.

13RW has generated much concern from schools, youth and mental health advocates, and parent groups.  The series does a very good job of bringing forward many nuanced and traumatic issues that many people face:  bullying, rape, drunk-driving, drugs and alcohol, suicide and accidental death.   It could be a starting point for important discussions with young people about these very issues.

The JED Foundation, committed to preventing suicide in young adults, has posted points parents should consider here:  https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-jed-point-view/ and talking and viewing points here:  https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/ .

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the largest grassroots mental health organization, has outlined how 13RW is harmful to vulnerable youth here:  https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2017/-13-Reasons-Why%E2%80%9D-Hurts-Vulnerable-Teens.

Oakland County teens have flipped the script coming up with 13 Reasons Why Not, as highlighted in this article:  http://www.theoaklandpress.com/general-news/20170504/oxford-high-school-students-begin-project-called-13-reasons-why-not .

These teen’s way of addressing suicide is exactly what experts say should be the focus when talking about suicide.  In fact, per the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide for journalists, the rules are:

  • Don’t sensationalize the suicide.
  • Don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note, if there is one.
  • Don’t describe the suicide method.
  • Report on suicide as a public health issue.
  • Don’t speculate why the person might have done it.
  • Don’t quote or interview police or first responders about the causes of suicide.
  • Describe suicide as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed him/herself,” rather than “committed suicide.”
  • Don’t glamorize suicide.

Because this series violates all of these rules, and in the spirit of Mental Health month, please consider signing a petition to Netflix to get their commitment to: (a) including the Lifeline number before or after each USA-viewed episode of the series; and (b) work with the Lifeline to develop and promote videos demonstrating the Lifeline’s five #Bethe1to actions steps to prevent suicidePlease read and sign the petition and distribute it through your business and social networks. The petition can be found here:  http://bit.ly/2pTzqxU

Please take action!  Consider one or all of the following:

  1. Memorize these numbers, put them in your smart devices, and share them readily:
    1. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800)273-TALK (8255)
    2. DWMHA 24/7 Access and Crisis Line: (800)-241-4949
    3. Crisis Text Line: Text “START” to 741-741
  2. Watch our educational videos on YouTube:
    1. Opening Minds Youth Perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtdaknKWTYk
    2. Opening Minds, Ending Stigma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhWkdo03z74
  3. Take a class to learn how to identify the signs of mental illness, and how to handle a crisis, such as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) or Question Persuade Refer (QPR). Contact DWMHA for more information at dwmha.com
  4. Start a conversation today with someone who seems to be struggling. Just letting them know you care can make all the difference in the world.
  5. If you are struggling, talk to someone today.

Remember, there is hope.  It can get better.  There are people who care, and who will help.

Dr. Carmen McIntyre is the Chief Medical Officer at Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. If you have a question for Dr. McIntyre, please submit it to AskTheDr@dwmha.com


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