AAFP Responds to '13 Reasons Why' With Mental Health Resources
Hannah Baker is fictitious, but the stark reality of teen
suicide is not.
After years of declines, the suicide rate in the United States is climbing. According to the CDC, it rose from 10.5 people per 100,000 in 1999 to 13 per 100,000 in 2014. The group with the largest increase, sadly, is girls ages 10 to 14. Suicides in that demographic segment more than tripled -- from 0.5 per 10,000 to 1.7 per 100,000 -- in the same period. Suicide rates for females ages 15 to 24 also increased, from 3.0 per 100,000 to 4.6 per 100,000. Suicide, in fact, is the third-leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24. This crisis hit home for me on a recent weekend when I noticed my teenage granddaughter watching 13 Reasons Why. The Netflix series, based on the best-selling book of the same title, tells the story of Baker, a 17-year-old who leaves behind audiotapes addressing the 13 people that factored into her decision to kill herself.
The series has received acclaim from critics and has been praised by some for starting conversations about not only suicide but also sexual assault and bullying. But others have raised concerns that the show could do more harm than good by glorifying suicide, romanticizing its aftermath and making a martyr out of Baker.
The ripples have been far-reaching. Mental health officials in Australia say calls to suicide hotlines have spiked since the show debuted in March. Censors in New Zealand created a new rating -- RP18 -- indicating the program should not be watched by children under 18 without the supervision of a responsible parent or guardian.
But what does it mean for us as family physicians? School districts in multiple states have sent letters home to alert parents about what their children might be watching, so many of us may encounter questions from concerned parents about topics related to depression or suicide.
The AAFP has addressed these concerns by compiling a collection of free resources for family physicians to use with their patients. These resources address important relevant topics, including depression, bullying, abusive relationships and suicide.
As family physicians, we care for entire families. Now, as always, we need to remind those families that we are here to help.
John Meigs, M.D., is president of the AAFP.
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