DOWNEY – Downey Unified superintendent Dr. John Garcia issued a letter to parents Tuesday in response to growing popularity around the Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why,” about a high school student who died by suicide.
Below is the letter in its entirety. (The letter is also available online in Spanish.)
Dear Downey Unified Families:
As part of the District’s continued efforts to provide our students with an education that ensures he/she is a well-rounded whole child, we want to take this time to provide some information and support in regard to a topic that focuses on the social emotional needs of your student(s).
As some of you may already be aware, there is a new television series with a sensitive theme that has become popular with teenagers. The series is based on a 2007 bestselling novel with the same Netflix title, “13 Reasons Why.” The topics covered in this book are: adolescent bullying, rejection, heartbreak, sexual assault, abuse, revenge, depression, and desperate but unsuccessful efforts to find help or understanding. These topics are depicted as many of the reasons for the character’s tragic suicide at the end of the series. Series like this can be difficult to watch and could trigger feelings of distress for the viewer, especially if it is an adolescent or teenager.
While we understand that it can be difficult to control what your student(s) watch, we wanted to share information that parents and other adults may find useful.
If you choose to ask your student(s) if they have watched or heard about the show and open up a conversation with them, the guidelines below can help prepare you for that conversation.
We also encourage you to be alert to warning signs, including suicidal threats, giving away possessions, preoccupation with death; changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts and/or feelings and emotional distress. If you have concerns about your child or another student, please reach out to your school counselor or other mental health professionals who have specific training in prevention and intervention during a crisis.
The National Association of School Psychologists has issued the following recommendations specifically in response to this show:
Guidance for families who choose to enter a discussion:
1. Ask your child if they have heard or seen the series “13 Reasons Why.” While we don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series, do tell them you want to watch it with them or catch up and discuss their thoughts.
2. If they exhibit any of the warnings signs above, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help.
3. Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond and when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
4. Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.
5. Get help from a school-employee or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers.
If you are concerned about your child, or someone else, please reach out for help:
■ Contact your child’s school counselor through your school’s main line or counseling office
■ Call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK(8255), or text “START” to 741741
■ Contact the Suicide Prevention Center, 1-800-727-4747, or the Youth Crisis Line, 1-800-843- 5200
■ Contact Teen Line (for teen to teen help): www.teenlineonline.org, 1-800-TLC-TEEN (1-800-852-8336), 310-855-HOPE(4673) or text “TEEN” to 839863
■ Contact the Californian Youth Crisis Line which is open 24/7, 1-800-843-5200
We are also here to provide support and information for you any time it is needed. There is a school-based mental health team that is available to you at any time. There will also be mental health information workshops being held on the following dates and times:
■ Thursday, May 18, 6:30 p.m., inside the Downey High School library
■ Thursday, May 25, 6:30 p.m., inside the Warren High School library
These evenings will focus on general mental health, and District and community resources available to parents. We urge any and all parents that would like information on this topic to attend one of these workshops.
Information and links to prevention sites are also available on our website, www.dusd.net, under Resources for Parents, for you to access at any time.
As we are all here to provide the best life and future for our students, I hope that we can continue to work together to support one another in this effort.
John A. Garcia, Jr., Ph.D.