Listen. I love Netflix binges.
On Saturdays and Sundays, and sometimes (if I’m really getting addicted) on a weeknight. I’m likely not unique this way. There’s simply nothing better than getting wrapped up in a good story.
I’m also aware that I live under a rock.
Aside from my Facebook news feed and my high school students, I’m pretty damn oblivious. And with the way things are these days, I generally like it that way. 14-year-old's, college buddies, and the occasional depressing dose of National Public Radio are my only connections to “the world.”
And don’t forget those Netflix documentaries.
After seeing My Beautiful Broken Brain I immediately emailed the producer demanding to meet her and the writer. After watching Black Fish I cried for one whole hour, called my best friend, and then watched Free Willy and cried some more.
The information we consume in the world and on the screen emotionally impacts us. These things have the power to take hold of us, consume hours of our time and make going to the bathroom in the middle of a binge seem like high treason.
“Miss,” my student piped up as I was about to change the slide on yet another thrilling lecture on The Cold War. “Have you seen 13 Reasons Why?”
“I haven’t,” I said. “What is it?”
“Oh, MISS. You’ve gotta see it. Netflix. This weekend. You’re welcome.”
And so I went home like any respectable and curious teacher and voila, there it was.
“The kids won’t shut up about this show,” I told my mom. “Want to try it?”
And so we sat. For hours. Binging one of the most emotionally compelling, depressing, and horrifying program I have ever seen.
I won’t spoil it for you. That’s just mean.
But what I will do is tell you how hard this show was to watch, not only as a human, but as a teacher who has lost a student to suicide and who interacts with children every day.
Here are 13 Reasons to talk to a teenager today about suicide:
1. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 years old after motor vehicle and other related accidents.
2. Four out of five teens who attempt suicide gave clear warning signs.
3. As girls begin to enter puberty earlier and earlier, they encounter changes sooner. According to Arielle Sheftall at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio “girls might be opening the door to anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders earlier on in life.” This in turn makes girls into women faster, leaving them vulnerable to sexual abuse, harassment, and cyber bullying.
4. Teens are highly influenced by the media and news they consume daily. Things as small as a twitter post or a video can go viral in an instant, and so too can stories of teen suicide and the perceived and real attention it gathers. “When you talk about death, you be sure to talk about the resources that are available in that community for people who may be at risk,” says Jarrod Hindman of the state Office of Suicide in El Paso County, Colorado.
5. Children are still developing the problem solving and reasoning areas of their brains. Many teenagers don’t know yet how to process their emotions or feel that they could be punished if they reveal them. This can make asking for help difficult.
6. Since 1995, a new game among teens has developed called the "choking game" which involves the dangerous practice of strangling yourself (or being strangled by someone else) to get a quick high from the oxygen being cut off from the brain. In a report released in 2006 by the Williams County Youth Health Risk Behavioral Survey, 20% of the survey sample of 17 to 18-year old’s in the county had participated in this fatal game.
7. Teen suicide often comes with what is refered to as a “cluster effect.” Madelyn Gould, of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City's team of researchers “used state death data to find 48 teen suicide clusters that occurred across the United States between 1988 and 1996. Each cluster involved a community where between three and 11 teenagers killed themselves within a six-month period.”
8. Our world can make it hard to catch warning signs in teens like loss of interest, over or under sleeping, small changes in appearance, and more. Classrooms are packed making it hard for teachers to talk to each student every day. Parents are busy. Friends can be flakes. We live in a society that is so fast paced and distracted that simple and preventative measures are not taken with children who may be struggling right in front of us.
9. People can be really shitty sometimes. Adults, children, and elected government officials. Not everyone is taught to truly care about other humans around them. Not everyone learns that love is stronger than hate. If children are not shown love properly, it is no wonder they see the world as a cruel place, which sometimes it can be. Teens who attempt or succeed suicide try to escape bullying, humiliation, and harassment and often feel that they have no other choice.
10. There are more resources surrounding suicide today than ever before. There are help groups, phone numbers, outreach programs, and start-ups. Survivor Dese’Rae L. Stage created the Live Through This project, inspiring hundreds of suicide survivors young and old to share their stories of struggle and survival openly to others in need.
11. Luis. Luis is a 14-year-old. He’s in my Geography class. Over the past year I have developed a special soft spot for this kid. In the 8th grade Luis got hit in the head by a soccer ball by another student on purpose. He had a severe concussion and has recently been overcome with anxiety and depression over his new symptom of memory loss. Sometimes Luis tells me he feels “behind” his peers and takes longer to do assignments now. He has an A in my class and works his butt off for it.
The day after Donald Trump got elected Luis came to me crying. He was scared that the new president was going to take his mother away from him because she didn’t have papers. I let this sweet child cry on my shoulder that day, and many days since then.
This year Luis made the counseling department’s watch list after expressing to me and the counselor that he was depressed and that he’d thought about hurting himself. He felt alone and scared. He didn’t think his brain could heal or that he’d be able to keep up with school or have a social life.
When I was in Spain for Spring Break I worried about Luis a lot. I worried that for 10 whole days he’d be on his own without me to protect him. I found Luis’ last name on a little key chain with his family crest and brought it back to him.
He wouldn’t even take it out of the plastic wrapping. He told me it was his most cherished possession.
In the past few weeks I’ve convinced Luis to join my after school Comedy Club program. He’s a natural. He has a shy and sneaky comedic presence and the crew has taken him in as one of their own. The other boys invite him over to their houses to play video games and the girls in class even share their fun drama with him.
I monitor Luis closely. Because he’s more special to me that he will ever know.
12. His name was Charles. Sometimes Chuck. He made me cry during my student teaching semester in the Spring of 2015 when he challenged my authority after an administrator from another school was observing me teach for a job interview. He was quiet, but social. He might have appeared broody, poetic even. His handwriting was messy. I think he had a girlfriend, or at least a girl he sat in the hall with during lunch. He wasn’t much for talking to me, but he was smart. Scary smart for a 14 year old.
One time he wrote something concerning on an assignment I graded. It was hard to make out because of his handwriting. But it was political, maybe even a little aggressive. I got the impression that he did not think that people were genuinely good. “Nobody actually cares.” I told my cooperating teacher and we took the assignment down to the Psychologist’s office. We talked to her about Chuck and our concerns, we were told to “keep an eye on him.”
I made an effort to ask him how his day was going. I think I asked to stand on his skateboard once. He thought it was funny to watch me goof around and lose my balance.
Maybe he smiled. Then again, maybe he didn’t.
My memories of this young man and our time together are as quick and fleeting as a startled bird in flight.
Chuck committed suicide in the Fall of 2015. I got the call from my friend and former cooperating teacher on my way home from school.
My new job. With new faces and new names. New stories of students who had the ability to make me want to drive my head through a wall and smother them in love all in the same 50 minute class period.
I hadn’t thought about Chuck in a long time. I hadn’t thought about all the small moments that could have lead to his decision to leave forever. In a sense I’d put it away. He was a tiny memento on my teacher desk. I could still teach my new students. I could love them without fear of losing them.
That’s when 13 Reason’s brought it all back.
It brought everything back like a painful collision with a 2 by 4 to my entire being. I couldn’t even measure what I was feeling. I couldn’t understand why my stomach felt like it had slowly fallen out of my belly button and onto the floor.
How many Chuck’s have to sacrifice themselves before we finally see the truth?
I know in my heart that I did everything that I could think of at the time to help Chuck. I know many others that did the same. I know the cruelty that the world can possess and the consequences of feeling alone. I know that Chuck’s story is one of millions.
And I need it to stop. Right here and right now. And I know what I have to do.
I have to keep loving my children. Big and small. Size 14 Shoe and Soon To Be Growth Spurts. Mexican, Muslim, and even that one kid that I’m pretty sure is a Nazi.
I have to love them. And love them. And love them some more.
And even when my time in the classroom ends I will still love them. I will dream of grading their papers in my sleep. I will write letters to each and every one of them before the school year ends.
I will cry a whole lot. Because I can’t save them all.
But I will love them anyway for as long as I can. Because the world does not need reasons to help a child in need.
Not a single one.
For more resources about how you can help combat teen suicide please click the bolded links in this blog or visit www.safe2tell.org for more information and share this post with friends and family.
Editor’s Note: Writing reason number 13 was interrupted by half an hour of sobbing, a teary eyed phone call, 6 hours of sleep, and a school day. It was not until the next day that I was able to compose myself enough to finish this.