Bear Witness

12 out of 100 Branham students have contemplated suicide

"Thirteen Reasons Why" reflects reality of sexual harassment, rumors, and teen suicide

Julia Kolman, Editor-in-chief

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“Suicide is not an option” reads the poster Alex Standall tears from the hallway of Liberty High.

“What, they think these are going to save someone’s life? ‘Suicide is not an option.’ You know what? Clearly it is an option,” he says to protagonist Clay Jensen.

And it is.

Suicide is the option for the 44,000 Americans who take their own life each year, and is the second-leading cause of death among teenagers.

Suicide, and some of its causes, such as bullying, sexual harassment, and rape, are explored in the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” adapted from the novel of the same name by Jay Asher. The central character, Hannah Baker, commits suicide, and records 13 tapes addressed to her peers explaining how they were involved in her decision to end her life.

On Twitter, the Netflix series is the most trending show of 2017, but has received both scathing criticism and high praise from both students and administrators. Some fear that the show dramatizes and glorifies suicide, and the graphic scene of Hannah’s death is said to be “too disturbing.”

But the truth is that 5,000 teens attempt suicide each day. Branham’s recent Healthy Kids Survey found that 12 percent of Branham students have considered suicide, which is approximately 200 of the 1,600 students on campus.
This statistic shows that suicide is an issue at Branham, and some feel that “13 Reasons Why” is reflective of our current high school climate.

Sexual harassment

Hannah’s first reason began with a rumor, which led to the sexual objectification of her body by her peers. The events of sexual harassment unraveled, and Hannah both witnessed and was a victim of rape.

French teacher Ms. Laurel Garceau, who read the novel, recalled a point in the book when “guys expect girls to do certain things sexually and then (the girls) get a reputation.”

She states that this theme is prominent in high school today, and always has been. Assistant Principal Mr. Rick Hayashi watched the series with his children, and said that he had conversations with his son about “treating females appropriately.”

The matter of bragging of what one has done, or claims to have done in Hannah’s situation, “is how rumors spread,” Mr. Hayashi said, “and it ultimately can get back to that person and you can’t undo that.”

Rumors and bullying

The rumors and jarring words of the students in the Netflix series are true to many campuses, including our own. Principal Ms. Cheryl Lawton watched the show and believes some of the situations to be similar to those she’s seen in various schools. She said campuses have always had this issue, but social media now complicates bullying.

Mr. Hayashi states that the administration sees what students post on social media, “the rumors and the texts, the online bullying” and he hopes students report negative things they see online to the school.

These comments are not limited to social media, however. In the series, Hannah’s mother finds derogatory words written on the bathroom walls. In the Branham’s women’s restroom, one would see a “conversation” marked in a stall that started with “what should I f-ing do,” followed by “IDK (I don’t know)” followed by, “KYS (kill yourself).” These are the words students see everyday. This is the truth we choose to ignore.

Reflection of school resources and support

The graphic scenes of rape and suicide in the series are disturbing, as they should be. These are raw topics that are rarely discussed in schools. Students are given limited information in presentations from the guidance counselors, and resources are hardly advertised. “13 Reasons Why” serves as a resource for students and brings awareness to these heavy themes. Beyond awareness, viewers can gain some understanding for how to help.

Hannah addresses her school counselor as one of her “reasons” as he failed to provide support as she tried to confess that she was raped. Mr. Hayashi states, “It made me even more sensitive to the idea that you really need to listen to the kids, and sometimes kids won’t ask for help directly. You have to look at the little signs.”

Noticing the signs and receiving help

The signs are there, in Hannah, in Alex, and in most students who are battling suicidal ideation. School psychologist Ms. Jeannette Medina states that students and teachers can notice these signs in others, which include talk of death, depressed mood, withdrawal from others, and substance abuse. Ms. Medina states, “Any time a student or an individual is talking about wanting to hurt themselves or hurt others, we as a person have the obligation to follow up.” Any suicidal sign should be questioned and reported. “It’s better to be wrong in any case than to be too cautious.”

English teacher Ms. Heather Amanatullah states that there have been instances where she contacts the school administration, or even the police, and informed parents that their child was contemplating suicide. As a teacher, she is trained to notice these signs in her students.

Hannah’s situation with a school counselor was poor. He minimized her situation, and she felt alone. This should not be the case for any student. Ms. Medina advises, “If you don’t feel like you’re being heard by one person, don’t stop there. Continue to go and get help.”

Thirteen Reasons Why brings to light the fact that suicide is an option, but of course, students need to be assured that there are certainly other options to relieve pain and get help. Support is available on an off campus, so students can contact school counselors, hotlines, or their physician for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

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12 out of 100 Branham students have contemplated suicide