Support Salvation Army Wildfire Relief

If your child watches a hit Netflix show, psychiatrist gives reasons why you should watch with them

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A metro psychiatrist says the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" is having a direct impact on our community and local hospitals are seeing an increase in suicidal teens. In the last year, Children's Mercy Hospital has seen a big increase in the intake of suicidal teens.

It's a Netflix series that has captivated the country.

"Hey it's Hannah. Hannah Baker. Settle in. I'm about to tell you the story of my life."

Teenagers staying up late to binge-watch the fictional story of a high school girl who takes her own life and leaves 13 tapes behind detailing why she did it. The show was a huge success, but an even bigger source of controversy.

"It's tremendously disturbing," child and adolescent psychiatrist Shayla Sullivant said.

Sullivant finished the series on Wednesday night. She says the show has been a main topic of conversation among her patients, specifically a scene that shows the main character taking her own life. She worries the show has become a trigger for suicidal teens in the area, and says Children's Mercy alone has already seen a big increase in teens coming in with suicidal thoughts.

"We definitely are in a crisis and need more support for our community," Sullivant said.

She says Kansas and Missouri now rank higher than the national average of completed suicides.

"Our local psychiatric hospitals have been very full lately. It's been difficult to find a bed for someone who needs to be admitted to the hospital," Sullivant said.

While they cannot blame the show alone for this recent uptick, it's playing a role. Sullivant says parents should make sure no teen watches the series alone and if something doesn't seem right, talk to your kids.

"We need to not be afraid to say something if our gut tells us something isn't right," she said.

Children's Mercy has listed 13 things to know about suicide prevention:

1: It’s safe to ask. Many worry about “putting thoughts in their heads” when it comes to teens. But research tells us that asking does not increase risk.

2: You don’t have to be a professional to save a life. We need everyone to ask when they are worried, because many teens are not seeing mental health providers. Parents, coaches, teachers, grandparents, neighbors, family friends: “I’m worried about you. I know some people get so upset that they think about dying. Have you ever thought of killing yourself?”

3: Some think teens talk about suicide to seek attention. If someone is talking about suicide in any context they need to be taken seriously.

4: Most teens think we should ask: in a recent study at CMH we learned that young people want us to ask about suicidal thoughts.

5: Limiting access to firearms is one of the top things you can do to prevent suicide. Storing guns outside the home, or unloaded with ammunition locked up separately, helps to decrease risk.

6: Approximately 90% of people who die by suicide have a treatable condition. Depression is most common, but anxiety, substance abuse, and many other conditions increase risk. Appropriate treatment decreases risk.

7: Many teens who attempt suicide act within minutes of deciding to end their lives, typically when feeling desperate. If they do not have access to lethal means (i.e. firearms, sharps, medications, ropes) then the attempt may be interrupted. Lock up all supplies of medication. Over-the counter medications (i.e. Benadryl, Tylenol and Ibuprofen) are some of the most dangerous in overdose.

8: Vulnerable youth who see a community mourning a teen who has died by suicide are at increased risk. This is called the contagion effect. It is important to memorialize those who die by suicide without romanticizing the circumstances, to protect vulnerable peers.

9: Teens often worry about breaking the trust of a friend who has shared thoughts about suicide. They need to know that is never a secret that a true friend would keep. Adults always need to be notified so they can get help.

10. Suicide is not the inevitable outcome of traumatic events. Most people who have suicidal thoughts, and even 90% of those who attempt suicide, never die by suicide.

11. Often we look for one particular “cause” that led to a suicide, when really suicide is much more complicated. Suicide is not an outcome that should be blamed on one person or situation.

12. Many teens want to share their struggles. Every day we have teens who tell us about their suicidal thoughts at CMH, simply because we ask.

13: We have reason to hope. Many amazing people in this world have faced suicidal thoughts, from Michael Phelps to Oprah Winfrey, from President Abraham Lincoln to JK Rowling. Talking about the struggle is the first step to recovery.