Responding to students discussing 13 Reasons Why - Second Season

13 Reasons Why should not be used as a teaching tool or a prevention resource in schools, however if the subject comes up from students, educators need to be prepared to discuss the topic safely and responsibly.

Drama can help raise awareness, start important conversations and encourage people to seek help when they might not have done so otherwise. Young people in particular want to see real life issues covered in drama aimed at their age group. This provides an opportunity but also a challenge as there’s a substantial body of research that shows it’s important to do this sensitively and responsibly.  

For vulnerable young people, those who are struggling to cope with their feelings, have mental health issues, who have had exposure to a suicide or any other loss, viewing or reading materials can increase their level of distress and potentially trigger suicidal thoughts and feelings.  

Be aware of any students who may have watched the programme and have found it distressing. Be aware of changes in behaviour and any warning signs that a student needs help, talk to them and offer support.

Points to discuss if the topic arises: 

  • That suicide is permanent, Hannah appears to live on and interact with other characters. Remind students that this is not reality. If you die, that is it.

  • Hannah’s problems were temporary and the difficult feelings will get easier in time. The same is true for all characters, in the fictional story. Most of the characters had a traumatic event. They could find ways of coping with this that would help everyone move on. On the most part they didn’t. 

  • While at times the difficulties we encounter can feel overwhelming, and it can be hard to see a way through these, in reality things can always be worked through.  

  • There are no further opportunities to get help or turn things around, when a person takes their own life, these opportunities are killed off along with the person who has died. 

  • In reality there are so many different options available to deal with problems we encounter in life, including the problems covered in this drama, such as bullying.  

  • Suicide is never an effective way to deal with problems we experience like this, nor is it a constructive way of highlighting that someone has wronged you in any way.

  • There are also many helplines and resources available to offer help now.

  • Talking very often brings relief and can help us to see different perspectives on our situation, helping us to find a way through. 

  • Suicidal feelings are treatable. While these can feel intense at the time, there is help available and they will pass. If you are struggling to cope, you may need help. Take it as a sign you need to talk to someone about your feelings.  

 

Use DEAL to focus on building resilience and positive coping strategies 

Many of the activities in Samaritans DEAL resources can enable teachers and students to develop resilience and be able to discuss the issues that have arisen from students. These can be used without mention of the programme as a useful tool to promote the emotional health and well-being of young people. 

  

Activities you could use include; 

How to take care of our emotional health 

 

Positive thinking 

 

Building resilience 

  

Finding a way forward 

 

My support network 

 

Barriers to seeking help: 

 

Supporting a friend 

 


Using materials that contain the subject of suicide or self harm  

From Shakespeare to modern fiction, in tv, film and other media, the theme of suicide is often woven. It can appear in history lessons, PSHE lesson and psychology courses.  Its inclusion reflects its reality as a social concern. Students who have had no personal exposure to suicide or suicidal thoughts and feelings may view the materials as they would those that contain any other social issues. 

For students with personal exposure to suicide or those that are more vulnerable, have had suicidal thoughts themselves or have mental health issues, the topic may be troubling and upsetting and can also be a trigger for increased suicidal ideation. Content of materials that cover the topic of suicide can be a traumatic reminder of their experience or loss.  

Ideally, a teacher would know ahead of time which students in his/her classroom have been impacted by suicide (or any type of loss) to give students the option of not attending the lesson and being given a different task. This is not always possible, so with this in mind the following poi9nts should be considered. 

Talking about suicide in the classroom 

Talking to young people about suicide can feel daunting. Many people fear it will cause increased distress or even lead to the development of suicidal thoughts or copycat behaviour. 

However, talking about suicide in a calm and straightforward way, as well as providing information and support, is actually very important in helping young people to manage their feelings and make sense of what has happened. It’s important to be thoughtful and sensitive when you talk to young people about suicide. The aim is to promote positive coping strategies and good mental health. Below are some important factors to keep in mind. 

  • Avoid using the terms “successful suicide, commit suicide”. “Suicide death” or “died by suicide” are acceptable substitutions.  These may seem like simple semantics and in some ways, they are, but they reflect a degree of sensitivity to the subject that tends to be greatly appreciated by anyone whose life has been touched by the tragedy of suicide.  You are also modeling for your students how to choose sensitive language to address difficult content. 

  • Empower your students to take care of themselves.  

  • Promote positive attitudes, coping strategies and healthy options.  

  • Promote ways young people can have fun together in non-risky ways. 

  • Promote help-seeking behaviour. Inform students about the types of support services available and how to access these.  

  • Talk about the things that make people feel happy, such as giving to others, listening to music, playing sport or talking with friends. 

  • Remind students that challenging situations in our lives are often temporary and will pass.  

  • If there’s been a suspected suicide in your school community within the last academic year, there are other things to consider about using materials that cover the topic of suicide. Research has determined that even fictional depictions of suicide can increase the risk level in vulnerable youth, you may want to review appropriate materials to use.  If you decide to retain the material, it will be even more important to discuss coping strategies, promoting self-care and signposting to support available. 

  • Include discussion about the complexity of suicide and the accumulation of risk factors that can lead up to suicide. 

  • Discuss the warning signs that the characters in the story dismissed, missed, or ignored and discuss what alternative positive strategies could be employed to someone displaying these signs. 

  •  Creating an alternate scenario to the suicide, i.e., describing the ways in which it could have been prevented. The common theme in these alternate outcomes is usually help-seeking behavior, either the protagonist asks for help or other characters recognize the warning signs and intervene. 

 

Student projects 

When students are carrying out projects undertaking self-initiated studies or creating presentations that cover the topic of suicide the following points should be considered. If suicide is part of a topic studied or a student’s research focus, teachers can limit the scope by suggesting related aspects, such as rates of suicide and depression, government policies, support programmes or suggestions on how to help a friend. It would obviously be irresponsible to allow studies that increase students’ knowledge about the methods of suicide and their lethality. 

 

Not to include statistics 

 Focus on: 

  • the tragedy and instilling other options and hope and resilience 

  • youth health issues, including depression 

  • mental health and wellbeing 

  • mental illness and ways of seeking help, using local contacts 

  • dealing with grief and loss and recognising our feelings; changing our thoughts and focus 

  • how physical activity helps 

  • coping with change or loss of relationships and problem-solving. 

 

Talking about statistics 

At Samaritans, we collate the national suicide statistics for the UK and ROI to understand which groups of people may be more at risk. While this information is publicly available (through our website and the statistical agencies that produce the data) we urge educators to give careful consideration regarding the use of suicide death data especially when presenting it to young people.  

By presenting statistics and information about suicide to young people, there is the potential to normalise or present suicide as a reasonable solution to their problems. For example, telling young people that suicide is the 1st or 2nd leading cause of death next to road traffic accidents, might allow them to assume this is a common and acceptable way of dealing with their problems.   

This kind of comparison information is also somewhat misleading and whereas suicide might be high in terms of leading causes of death for young people, the numbers of deaths are still low in relation to older age groups since they are less at risk of death from other causes (e.g. illnesses). 

  

Suicide and the selection of teaching materials  

The majority of young people watch television or movies and will read books about suicide and with suicide themes. In addition, the internet has fast become a worldwide phenomenon for communicating, information gathering and entertainment for young people in particular. Care needs to be taken in considering the selection of novels, films or plays that have suicide themes and the way we discuss this in classroom contexts.  

When selecting material, teachers (and librarians) should consider:  

  1. Is suicide portrayed as romantic, tragic or heroic?  

  1. Does the suicide result in positive attention from others?  

  1. Is information provided that directly or indirectly refers to the method or place of suicide?  

  1. Will young people be able to identify with the person who died by suicide?  

 

Consider:  

  1. Can the educational reasons for including this text be achieved through a text that does not discuss suicide?  

  1. Is suicide romanticised or glorified in the novel?  

  1. Is the method of suicide described?  

  1. How central is suicide to the theme of the story?  

  1. Does the story discuss help-seeking behaviour or other interventions in a positive way? 

If the material meets one or more of these criteria could the educational reasons for studying the text be achieved by studying another book?  

 

What else to consider 

It is likely that discussing self-harm and suicide will result in identifying new cases that were previously unknown to the school or college. While this is a positive outcome, this can place a greater burden on already stretched staff. Prepare for this by ensuring staff know the protocols following disclosure and ensuring support staff are available in case they are needed.