“13 Reasons Why” Sparks Discussion About Suicide Prevention

Shea Gendron, Staff Writer

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“Mental illness and substance abuse are very treatable and very common,” explained Dr. James O’Dea to a crowd of over one hundred in the Norwich Free Academy’s Slater auditorium on November 29.  Seats filled with students, parents, and members of the community gathered to talk about one thing, teen suicide.

During this two-hour long event, the presentation included a screening of an episode of “13 Reasons Why,” and after the viewing, a discussion about the program.

“13 Reasons Why” is a TV show that depicts a high school junior, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide and leaves behind tapes of why she decided to take her own life.

“The purpose of this event is to educate teenagers and families about this series and use that as a springboard to discuss a lot of important topics that affect a lot of teenagers; topics like depression, and teen suicide, which [are], unfortunately, very common. Suicide is the second leading cause of death of teens in America: 5,000 a year. It is something that is very important, and it is important to talk about, but there are not a lot of forums to do that, so we thought this would be a good time to do that,” explained Dr. Paul Wiegle, a Hartford Health psychiatrist.

“[This event] is about awareness; it is about recognizing a show about suicide is also a show about mental illness; it’s about a reluctance to seek care and treatment; it’s about things that get in the way of people getting care and treatment. So when we have events, and we bring young people into an audience on a Wednesday night and their parents or other adults, and we can increase dialogue, the likelihood is more people who need help will get help,” added O’Dea.

“It is important for parents to talk to their children about [suicide] so they can open up a dialogue; so that if their child is struggling with issues or they know a peer who is struggling with issues, that maybe the child will be open. It’s important for parents to listen as much as they talk, but also give their viewpoints on suicide and what it means,” Wiegle declared.

“Depression is a very treatable condition but a vast majority of people with it don’t get the treatment they need,” O’Dea commented.

“Very often in my practice, the way kids do come into treatment is that a kid will say something online, or to a friend, that they’re having thoughts about ending their life, and then the teen will actually tell their parents or tell someone at the school and get the kid help; and that is really the most important thing to do,” Wiegle added.

“My favorite part is rewatching the episodes because I had previously watched this season, and after hearing professionals talk about what to look for, it really brought more insight into the conversation of suicide,” said NFA senior, Sydney Coral.

O’Dea declared, “I think the most important issue is what has the show done to promote awareness of issues, and I think that is tangible and it’s real, and it’s demonstrated by events like this evening.”

Therese Wilson, a mother of children in their twenties, said, “I think it is really important for people to talk to their children. My biggest concern is trying to let kids know we’re available, and how to break that gap, too, and know what the kids know.”

NFA senior, Kaylee White added, “We should be kinder to people, because you never know what they’re going through on a day-to-day basis.”



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