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A Counselor’s Take on 13 Reasons Why

If you have a preteen or teen child, you probably have heard of the hugely popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. The show, based on a best-selling novel, centers around Hannah, a teenage girl who dies by suicide and leaves behind tapes to the people she feels pushed her towards ending her life. This popular and controversial show has brought in discussions about mental health, bullying, sexual assault, substance use and suicide. As a counselor, I agree that raising awareness on these topics is crucial and necessary, especially considering the frightening increasing rates of these issues. However, I am concerned about the potential impact that this show might have on young teens. Blog-13 reasons why-Main-Landscape-01

Teenagers are very vulnerable to graphic content. The show can be hard to watch, and some scenes can be potentially very triggering. Many teens are binge-watching the show, which increases concern about the possible emotional distress that can be caused by doing so. I do not recommend that anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts watches the show as it might develop potential ideas or even romanticize the idea of suicide. The problem with the ultimate fantasy is that the character does not get to change her life with suicide nor does she get to find out what happens next. Suicide is final.

13 Reasons Why also misses the mark in its failure to address mental illness or depression ( the most common risk factor in completed suicides). Depression can look differently in teens than adults.

Some risk factors include:

  • Significant sense of sadness
  • Significant irritability
  • Isolation
  • Negative comments about life
  • Loss of interest in sports, hobbies, etc.

My recommendation is that if your child wants to watch the show, you watch with them.

Although it might be hard or uncomfortable, it might bring an opportunity to discuss important topics such as:

  • Talk to your children about bullying and what it might look like. Bullying can be physical or verbal abuse, excluding others, or using the internet/social media to attack and humiliate the victim. Teach your child to not be a bystander or support bullying.
  • Talk to your child about resilience and options on how to reach out for support if they are being bullied. If children develop resilience and strong self -advocacy, it can help them further develop their self- esteem and instill courage.
  • Talk to your child about symptoms of depression. 1 in 5 teens experience depression and suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24-year-olds according to the CDC. Discussing the issue of suicide does not plant the idea. It creates the opportunity to offer help. Have a conversation with your child about trusted adults in their life that they can reach out to if they need help.
  • Listen to your child’s comments without judgment. Do not minimize or trivialize what you see. If it appears insignificant to you as an adult, remember that this is a daily reality that teens are faced with each day. Allow your child to discuss any issues without judgment or punishment.

In addition, the Jed Foundation has released a great list of additional talking points. You can check those out here: https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/

We need to use shows like 13 Reasons Why as a reminder. A reminder to be emotionally present and let children know that they are loved and supported. Children need you to be their secure base, to support their exploration, help them, enjoy with them and watch over them. Make sure to create a space for listening that is nonjudgmental and supportive.

If you need to talk, or if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 1800-273-8255 or 1800-SUICIDE (784-2433).

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

Social Work

Erilda Borici

Erilda Borici

Erilda Borici is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) with experience working with children, adolescents and their families. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee in Psychology and her Master of Arts degree from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology with a specialization in Children and Adolescents. Erilda has had the opportunity to practice in a variety of mental health settings. These experiences include facilitating an Adolescent Intensive Outpatient program at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital working with adolescents struggling with depression, anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm. In addition she has experience providing individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy to children, adolescents and families in outpatient settings. Erilda has a special interest in play therapy and working with adolescent girls struggling with self-esteem and identity issues.

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September is Suicide Awareness Month

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for kids, ages 15-24, and continues to be a developing concern. With roughly 1,700 adolescents annually completing suicide attempts, there has been a significant push towards increasing awareness, prevention, and support resources for students, parents, teachers and care givers. blog-suicide-awareness-main-landscape

The following outlines some warning signs as well as steps that can be taken to prevent adolescent suicide. It needs to be said that not all children who present with some of the warning signs below are suicidal, it is important that you communicate with your children and assess their individual situations and needs.

Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Talking about death and dying – Discussing death can be a normative part of a child’s development, but a sudden increase or fixation of death and dying could be a warning factor
  • No future planning – As children, and adults, we plan for our futures and often discuss them with others. Individuals struggling with suicidal ideation often feel no hope for their future, and cannot express thoughts, hopes, or wishes that things could change or get better.
  • Recent loss – It is always important to support our children when they have experienced a recent loss; attuning to our child’s grieving process is an important component of supporting them.
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits – Any drastic or sudden changes to sleeping or eating habits that cannot be explained by another medical/social condition should be monitored.
  • Changes in behavior – Unexpected changes in performance at school, home, work, or with peers; often noted as “difficulty focusing.”
  • Changes in mood – Presenting as down, depressed, withdrawn, reclusive, angry or lonely can be warning signs. Some individuals also become elated or very happy prior to an attempt; emotional presentation that may be inappropriate given circumstances

Things You Can Do

Develop a positive relationship with your kids: Talk to your kids on a consistent basis about their day-to-day life; encourage appropriate expressions of emotions; provide a safe and stable home environment; spend quality time; listen without judgment.

Provide a Safe Environment: Do not keep firearms or other potentially lethal means in your home, or if necessary, keep them securely locked away without access.

Take threats seriously: Regardless if you believe this to be “real” or not, the youth is trying to express a need and reach out for support.

Provide resources and support:  For kids struggling with mental health concerns, provide access to care and support. Have access within your home to crisis hotline numbers, or emergency contacts your kids can reach out to for support.

Resources:

Suicide Prevention Toolkit: http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA12-4669/SMA12-4669.pdf

You Matter Campaign: http://www.youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

References:

Berman, A., Jobes, D., & Silverman, M., (2006) Adolescent suicide: Assessment and intervention (2nd ed.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 456 pp.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 1-800-273-TALK

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (847) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Social Work

Colleen Manuel

Colleen Manuel

Colleen graduated with both a Master of Social Work from Loyola University Chicago, as well as a Master of Arts in Addiction Therapy from the Hazelden Graduate School for Addiction Studies. Colleen has studied Attachment and Object Relations Theory, Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Solution Focused Therapy. Prior to joining North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Colleen provided trauma informed and attachment therapy to adolescents at risk for gang affiliation on Chicago’s West Side; as well as provide mental health and substance abuse treatment specific to members of the LGBT population. Colleen is passionate about providing culturally sensitive and empathic treatment to any client she serves. With specialties in trauma, attachment, children, adolescents, and addiction; Colleen remains dedicated to serving families and children and underserved populations.

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How to Help Your Child Cope with the Suicide of a Friend

For a child losing a friend through suicide brings up a lot of questions and emotions, such as why did this happen or what could have been done? A teen or adolescent may have copingwithsuicide-mainmany mixed feelings or may feel “numb.” Whatever they are feeling, your role as the parent is to help them and be supportive. Reassure the child whatever feelings they might experience, they have permission to let them out. If they want to keep to themselves for a while, let them. Don’t tell a child how they should or should not feel. Also, don’t discourage them from expressing negative emotions like anger. Talking about suicide will not increase the risk that others will go on to take their own lives. In fact, like a death from any other serious illness, suicide is now part of the family’s health history. Knowing the truth about mental illness and suicide enables all surviving family members to be appropriately vigilant about their own health moving forward, and take preventative steps.

Although it’s understandable that adults naturally wish to protect children from pain or bad news, shielding children from the truth can undermine trust and create a legacy of secrecy and shame that can persist for generations. You can protect children best by offering comfort, reassurance, and honest answers to their questions.

A child may experience the following feelings and that’s okay:

  • Abandoned – that the person who died didn’t love them.
  • Feel the death is their fault – if they would have loved the person more or behaved differently.
  • Afraid that they will die too.
  • Worried that someone else they love will die or worry about who will take care of them.
  • Guilt – because they wished or thought of the person’s death.
  • Sad.
  • Embarrassed – to see other people or to go back to school.
  • Confused.
  • Angry – with the person who died, at everyone.
  • Lonely.
  • Denial – pretend like nothing happened.
  • Numb – can’t feel anything.
  • Wish it would all just go away.

Tips on Explaining Death to Children and Teens

  1. Use the correct language- never use euphemisms. Do not use phrases as Grandma went to sleep or went away. These explanations can lead young children to become afraid to go to sleep or worried when parents leave the house and “go away.”
  2. Be honest with them and encourage their questions and expressions of emotions. It is important that kids know they can talk about it (even if you don’t have all the answers) and be sad, angry, scared, or whatever emotions they feel.
  3. Kids often will repeatedly ask the same questions; it is how they process information. As frustrating as this can be, continue to calmly tell them that the person has died and can’t come back. Also, do not discourage their questions by telling them they are too young.

If you believe your child could benefit from speaking with a specialist, click here.

Resources

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Brett Siegel

Brett Siegel

Brett Siegel received his Bachelor and Masters degrees in Social Work at The University of Kansas and Loyola University Chicago respectively. While completing his Master's degree, Brett's field practicum took place at Rainbow Hospice, providing therapy for children working through the grief process followed by an internship year at Lutheran General Hospital providing diagnosis and psychotherapy on the mental health adolescent unit. While attaining his LCSW certification, Brett moved to Bloomington, Illinois where he served as a crisis therapist for children and their families. Brett joins North Shore Pediatric Therapy with a plethora of experiences that have served to foster professional growth and development. He has worked extensively in the areas of case management and clinical/therapeutic interventions with children, adults, families and groups. His professional interests include, but are not limited to pediatric and adolescent mental health, the bullying epidemic and the impact of divorce on children and their families.

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Bullying: How To Know It’s Happening And What To Do About It

Bully Pointing And Laughing At BoyName Calling Just As Harmful as Physical Abuse

We all can probably name the “school bully” (or bullies) from our childhood. Bullying is not a new challenge for children, but it should not be dismissed as simply a part of growing up. Bullying is a serious issue of abuse that can be emotional, verbal, physical, or some combination of the three. All three forms of bullying can be devastating to children. The old adage of “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” is simply not true. The March/April issue of the Journal of Child Development features a study conducted at UCLA that determined verbal abuse happens twice as often as physical abuse and “the students who were beat up and those who were called names were equally bothered.” Today, we have an additional form of bullying: cyber bullying, which, takes bullying to a whole new level. Read more

Dori Mages

Dori J. Mages, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker who earned her Master of Social Work from The University of Illinois at Chicago's Jane Addams College of Social Work in 1997. She also has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dori has worked with children, adolescents, and families since 1994 in several areas of social work practice including: foster care, schools, hospitals, and private practice. She earned her Type 73 school social work certification in 1997 and has worked with children of all needs in the public schools for 7 years. She knows the importance of collaborating with parents, teachers and school staff (with parental consent) to provide the most beneficial services. Dori has also been interviewed on ABC and NBC news as an expert discussing therapeutic topics and articles she has written for North Shore Pediatric Therapy. As a wife and mother of three, she understands the challenges and rewards of raising children and is compassionate about helping children and families navigate the difficult times. Dori prides herself on being a valuable coach and "cheerleader" to the families she serves and strives to give families the tools they will need to improve their quality of life long after therapy has ended.

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BULLYING AND SUICIDE. WHO’S FAULT IS IT AND HOW CAN YOU HELP?

According to a recent USA TODAY survey, one third of Americans are bullies or bullied at some point in school.  In addition bullying these days is most often done in groups and  through the Internet, which makes looking away much harder.

Why would a child bully?  Why would a child get bullied?  Behaviors are learned, which means parents and teachers have to teach intolerance.  We have to have ZERO TOLERANCE for mean behavior toward other children, or anyone for that matter, from a very early age.  I remember when I brought home my baby girl and my 2 year old daughter said, “I don’t like the baby”.   I answered, “yes you do, you love her”, and I made room on the other knee for the two of them to fit.    It’s easy for a child to bully out of jealousy.  As parents and teachers, we have to look out for those cues.  Stop the bullying and understand the reasoning to prevent it again in the future.  ZERO TOLERANCE.  It starts at home and shows up at school starting in the early grades.    Kids will fight, but they have to fight fairly and appropriately.   No demeaning behaviors.   Too many children are committing SUICIDE as a result of this bullying!  Children are now getting taunted on the “virtual playground” to such a harsh extreme that they are choosing to end their life.  We have to step in!

What about teaching protection of those being bullied? Yes, we have to teach that too!   That can start at home.  Teach your child to stand up for the one being bullied.  Explain to your kids that if they see bullying in school, on the playground or even on Facebook, to tell an adult.   As professionals (parents, teachers, principals), we also have to diagnose the bullies or bullied kids, and make sure they are getting the appropriate intervention they need that is causing them to aggressively taunt someone or to get teased themselves.  Maybe that “nerd” has Asperger’s syndrome or depression?  Maybe that “bully” has Oppositional Defiant Disorder or is being abused at home?    Taking care of our youth is not an easy task but someone has to do it!

If your child is being bullied or is possibly a bully him/herself, it may not be your fault, but it is your duty to step in and intervene!

What types of Behavior do you consider Bullying ones?

What actions are you going to take to help our youth?  We look forward to hearing your solutions!

Deborah Michael

Deborah Michael, MS, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist and the founder of North Shore Pediatric Therapy. She is a professional advisory committee member of the Autism Society of Illinois. She is also a mother of five children. Her life’s passion has been to improve the lives of children and their families.

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