Series throws spotlight on torment of teenage suicide

Sudden suicide in your circle may leave you tormented by many questions around the motive or why no one noticed the symptoms of depression before it was too late.

How would you then feel if the deceased left you a detailed explanation of the thought process that led to them taking their life, naming you as one of the reasons that pushed them over the edge?

STARRING ROLE: Katherine Langford plays Hannah Baker in ‘13 Reasons Why’

For Hannah Baker’s friends and loved ones in the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, this is exactly what happens.

Hannah – a depressed high school teenager who takes her own life – gives reasons for her suicide in a series of cassette tapes she leaves with a friend.

Through the tapes the dead girl names all those she holds responsible; from her friends, fellow schoolmates to teachers.

The series, based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher and which officially launched on the internet streaming entertainment site in March 31, has set many tongues wagging on the topic of teen suicide.

The show has elicited comment from school bodies, church groups, parents and teenagers.

Some are for it, saying it has set the stage for a much-needed conversation on the issue of teen suicide. Others, worried about impressionable adolescent minds, are calling for it to be banned.

In a story which appeared in The Telegraph, entertainment writer Alice Vincent said this was the number one fear among the UK audience.

“13 Reasons Why shows Hannah’s suicide in detail, which has led to fears that such scenes may inspire “copycat” actions among young viewers,” the story reads.

In The Guardian, Nancy Jo Sales defends the series in an opinion piece, saying: “Hannah Baker is raped. She witnesses her friend Jessica being raped by the same boy. Prior to this, Hannah is photographed during a make-out session – a photo of a private moment which is then non-consensually shared by the boys on the basketball team at her school. After that, she becomes known as a slut.

“She is put on a ‘Hot List’ and described as having the school’s ‘best a**’ – something boys tell her she should be proud of. Her behind is grabbed in public. When she goes to tell her school counsellor about her rape and she refuses to name the boy, he tells her that without a name he can’t report the crime and counsels her to just get over it. Is any of this uncommon? Over the top. Unfortunately, no.”

With South African Depression and Anxiety Group statistics which reveal that 21.9% of South African teenagers have attempted suicide, a further 15.6% have made a suicide plan and a total of 17.8% having had one or more suicide attempts; should the country’s youth be allowed to watch this series?

Youth pastor at the Stirling Baptist Church in Nahoon, Dane Smith, said anyone who is depressed or, already considering suicide, should not watch the series as it may push them over the edge.

Smith said: “I think this series highlights everything which is happening in schools right now which many of the youth are forced to deal with. Just like in the series there is bullying happening at schools, there can even be rape and most of the time teenagers hide these things from their parents. There might even be cases where the incident is reported to the teachers but the teachers turn their backs on the pupils.”

Smith urged parents and teachers to watch the series.

“They should do this together with the youth so they can have this conversation and know exactly what is going on in their children’s lives,” he said.

As a teacher [school counsellor] is one of the 13 people who have failed Hannah, it raises the question of whether schools are doing anything to try and curb teen suicide.

The Daily Dispatch phoned five former Model C East London high schools who all said they had a counsellor permanently based at their schools, available to all pupils in need.

Beaconhurst High School principal Aubrey Norman said the school had a psychologist who worked with pupils in both school campuses. She refers the pupils to private psychologists or psychiatrists if they required further assistance or treatment.

Hudson Park High School principal Dave Alers said the school had four teachers who acted the role of counsellors.

“This is a matter which is discussed with the pupils on a regular basis and they know they should visit the counsellor should they require anything,” he said.

Some of the central themes in the series are depression, rape and bullying – many which may lead teenagers to want to end their lives.

South African Depression and Anxiety Group operations director, Cassey Chambers, said other issues which may trigger suicide include alcohol or drug use and teenagers who self-harm. Chambers said teenagers at high risk include those who have attempted suicide before, those with a history of depression or suicide in the family, those who have been sexually or physically abused or those with a learning or physical disability.

“Depression is the leading cause of suicide. Depression makes people feel hopeless, helpless and often they see no reason to live. Alcohol and drug use is often connected to suicide. Alcohol and drugs can actually add to depression and make it worse in depressed people. They also affect your judgment and lessen self-control.

“Bullying is a common problem in schools and many children and teens who are bullied feel worthless and hopeless. Being bullied can make people feel depressed and sadly many teens who are targets of physical or cyber bullying attempt suicide or become very depressed.”


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