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Suicide portrayal prompts debate

Jessica Katz, Opinions Editor

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Graphic by Suzanna Creasey
Pictured above is a National Suicide Hotline number. The entertainment industry portrays suicide in shows like “13 Reasons Why” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” Victor Schwartz, chief medical officer for the Jed Foundation, said this portrayal has potential for negative effects but also has potential to motivate people to reach out and seek help.

During the last episode of Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” Hannah Baker explains to her school counselor, Mr. Porter, that she is suicidal. In response, Mr. Porter advises Hannah to get over her problems and move on. Hannah leaves the office without any support and takes her own life shortly after.

“13 Reasons Why” is a TV show released in 2017, which tells the story of Hannah Baker through 13 cassette tapes she creates before taking her life. Each tape addresses a different individual Hannah believes contributed to her decision.

Another production depicting suicide is “Dear Evan Hansen,” a musical that made its Broadway debut in December 2016 and is scheduled to come to Chicago in 2018. It is about a teenager with social anxiety named Evan Hansen who becomes tangled in the aftermath of a classmate’s suicide.

During a phone interview, Clinical Psychologist John Mayer said shows like “13 Reasons Why” and “Dear Evan Hansen” are controversial because they glorify suicide, inaccurately portraying it as a viable option to solve problems.

Victor Schwartz, chief medical officer for the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit which works to prevent suicide among teenagers, said in a phone interview that he fears “13 Reasons Why” could increase the likelihood of copycat suicides.

“[Viewers] connect with characters, and for some people who might be struggling with their own suicidal impulses or serious depression, connecting with the main character is obviously a potentially dangerous thing,” Schwartz said.

Senior Abby Koss said she found some problems with “13 Reasons Why.”

“It diminishes the idea that mental illness is a main cause of suicide,” Koss said.

According to Schwartz, “Dear Evan Hansen” handled the subject of suicide in a more responsible way than “13 Reasons Why.”

“[‘Dear Evan Hansen’] does convey that [Evan is] getting treatment,” said Schwartz. “He’s working on it.”

Junior Rachel Drobetskiy said she saw “Dear Evan Hansen” and felt “underwhelmed” as she thought the show did not take the topic of suicide seriously.

According to Schwartz, if the media chooses to continue addressing suicide, it could start to portray the topic in a more helpful way to viewers.

“Conveying to people that … reaching out for help can be effective in lifesaving would be a scene that [I] would certainly want to see portrayed,” Schwartz said.

Glenbrook North Psychologist Amanda Lazzaro said there are many GBN resources offering support for students such as Text-A-Tip, a 24/7 anonymous text hotline offering support for students. Students can also talk with their guidance counselors or leave an anonymous tip in a box in Student Services.

Despite inaccuracies in some shows’ portrayals of suicide, Lazzaro believes the discussion about suicide they start, specifically getting help and recovering, is a crucial talk to have with a trusted adult.

“[We] need to talk about [suicide],” said Lazzaro. “[We] need to have the conversation.”

Below are resources for those in need of professional help:

Suicide Hotline: Call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433

Text-A-Tip: Text “GBN HELP” to 1-844-823-5323

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Suicide portrayal prompts debate