Can a show push you over the edge?
written by Rose Murrin, LICSW
Thanks to the show, "13 Reasons Why", which depicts the motivations behind a high school student's decision to take her own life, suicide has been at the forefront of many people's minds, newsfeeds, school letters, and popular media outlets. Concurrently, concerns regarding the on-line game, Blue Whale, which has been described as a "suicide game," have worried many about the promotion of suicide- particularly among teens.
Linking these two is the concern that various forms of media- whether through glamorizing, normalizing or active direction- may cause teens to attempt or commit suicide. The fear that a teen might commit suicide is visceral; and the stuff of nightmares - for all involved. There is some debate about how much influence this show and this game have over most youth. But what seems to be agreed upon by their critics is that while some youth may not experience these sources as encouragement to commit suicide, those who are already at risk may be further incited/provoked. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, youth and young adults ages 10-35. Since these media target people in this age group, particularly 13 and up, they are of specific concern. Locally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24 in Rhode Island as well, third in Massachusetts. In December, the Rhode Island Department on Health (RIDOH) released a report on suicide and suicide(1) attempts in Rhode Island youth (ages 15-24). Per this examination, while rates of self-reported suicide attempts among middle and high school students have remained fairly constant over the past decade, 127 deaths occurred by suicide between 2004-2014. This is a staggering number of lives to be lost each year in such a small state. This report and others note that while females are more likely to attempt suicide, males are more likely to commit suicide. In Rhode Island, the group most likely to commit suicide are males 18-24, who live in suburban areas, are non-Hispanic Caucasian, and have experienced a crisis (interpersonal or otherwise) in the past two weeks. Among the youth who did commit suicide, a full 45% had a diagnosed mental health problem. It may come as no surprise that depression is by far the most common diagnosis.
Given this information, knowing that even one death from suicide is too many, what can concerned parents, friends, peers, relatives do to address these issues? Get information, understand the warning signs and TALK about these difficult subjects. Perhaps there are constructive outcomes of the "13 Reasons" phenomenon; information about suicide among youth (and in general) is easy to find, quite
consistent and most significantly, the door to talk about it has been opened.
It reminds us to ask when we suspect someone is in emotional pain, to get help for those who may or may not be considering self-harm, but are struggling with mental health issues. It reminds us to consider the words of youth seriously, even when tempted to chalk it up to "drama" or "attention-seeking." For those who want to learn more, Lifespan is offering Youth Mental Health First Aid courses. These are(2) designed for anyone interested in developing tools to help a person in crisis while getting them appropriate, professional mental health support. If you are struggling or have questions, you can also reach out to your Kesher social worker, who can help sort through your concerns to get you the best resources for your needs.
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Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at email@example.com or