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Netflix series on teen suicide draws wide range of reactions

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Netflix series on teen suicide draws wide range of reactions

By Jason Morrow
Paducah Sun

The issue of teen suicide is never an easy one to tackle, but the creators of the latest Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" went all in, creating a lot of discussion throughout the local area as well as the nation.

The series, adapted from a best-selling novel, is about a teenage girl, Hannah, who leaves behind a diary of recorded tapes detailing the reasons she killed herself. Some critics have blasted the show for glorifying suicide, while others find it to be a useful discussion tool.

Claire Kelly, a senior at Paducah Tilghman High School, watched the show all the way through and thinks it has its good points and bad points.

"I think drawing attention to the issue of teen suicide is really important, but I also think this show has a lot of other messages that aren't necessarily positive for the teen community to be receiving," Kelly said.

For instance, she said the show paints Hannah as the hero of the story and that she gets a lot of attention after she kills herself.

"That just shows people that if they commit suicide they'll get all this attention, but they've committed suicide, so obviously that's not going to help anything," Kelly said.

There are some teens, however, who don't want to watch the show at all.

Caroline Dew, a junior at McCracken County High School, said, "Almost everyone is talking about it," but that doesn't make her want to see the show.

"The whole idea that somebody would kill themselves and leave tapes behind telling people that they're the reasons she killed herself, prompting them to potentially kill themselves is just pretentious and petty to me," Dew said. "That's a terrible thing to do."

A lot of parents have voiced their concern about the show as well.

Kelly Walden, a parent of two teenage girls at Paducah Tilghman High School, recently discovered that her 16-year-old had watched the show, so Walden decided to watch it herself. She was concerned from the very first episode because the show's creators made the main character use her suicide as revenge.

"If we present this to teenagers as a tool for vengeance, then that's terrible," Walden said. "A lot of kids get bullied. That's a terrible reality of life. I don't want them to think that this is how you even the score."

Walden isn't the only one concerned with copycat scenarios. Jon Akers, executive director for the Kentucky Center for School Safety, recently sent out an advisory for schools not to show the series. He said if they did show it, they needed to have appropriate talking points and the approval of their local school board's attorney.

"We're so afraid of copycat issues when it comes to (the show) and how it sensationalizes suicide when we're trying to not sensationalize it," Akers said.

"You get a lot of kids at this age thinking they're going to be recognized after they're dead. It's a mental health issue. We're trying to point them to the proper health care professionals."

Stephanie Baer, outreach coordinator for Emerald Therapy Center in Paducah, agrees that the show has its ups and downs.

"Anything that brings light to the issue can be positive," Baer said. "When you talk about it, you give it less power, you take away that stigma, you educate more people."

Baer said copycat scenarios are a concern, but in reality most teen suicides are not so thought out as the show depicts.

"This girl might seem glamorous to some young adults," Baer said. "These realistic things happen to her but she doesn't cope with them in a realistic manner."

Some of the warning signs of a suicidal teen, Baer pointed out, include a change in appearance, a dramatic change in grades, drawing away from friends and giving away possessions.

With the booming popularity of the show, the Emerald Therapy Center will host a free group discussion about suicide and "13 Reasons Why" at 6 p.m. June 15. The center is located at 3227 Coleman Road in Paducah.

Therapists, students and parents tend to agree that the show misses the mark in regard to mental illness.

"The show does lack some discussion that 90 percent of the time mental health is involved as an issue (with suicide)," Baer said.

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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