Thirteen Reasons Why was published in 2007 but has been in the news since the Netflix series has debuted. It is the story of Hannah Baker, a highschool student who committed suicide, leaving a legacy of reasons in a shoebox full of audio tapes. These tapes were mailed sequentially to those that she held responsible for the rumours, the sadness and the loneliness that she experienced.
My daughter read the book and shared that she felt that it is a great book to start discussions, to make readers think about how their actions impact others and to understand how important it is to be kind. Despite her very mature outlook on the topic, the Grand Erie School Board recently shared that they have “concern with the series as it may harm students who struggle with mental health challenges” and that it includes the “glamorization of suicidal behaviour and negative portrayals of helping professionals, which may prevent youth from seeking help”. The board stated that “incidents of self-harm can increase after media portrayals of suicide. We do not want to contribute to this. We know, of course, that some students will watch this series or read the book outside of school” leading me to believe that this book may have been banned from the schools.
Before commenting, I had to read the book myself and wonder how many members of the Grand Erie staff have actually read the book? I will admit that I have not watched the Netflix series so my comments are strictly related to the book. It is a devastating story but one that leads to important discussions in relation to rumours, bullying, alcohol, parties, rape and suicide – all issues that are important to address at both home and at school since these are topics impacting students.
My challenge to the Grand Erie District School Board is to embrace this book, to open lines of communication with teens, to promote kindness and support for those that are struggling and develop curriculum based on 13 Ways Students Can Support Each Other. The topic is serious but suicide can be a sad reality and schools must do their part to create positive learning environments. I can appreciate that the school board may feel that it may provide “negative portrayals of helping professionals” yet I can share personal experience of a guidance counsellor telling a depressed student that they need to “just force yourself to get out of bed” showing that there is a lack of education and understanding about depression and proving a need for more education to these role models.
This is a book that all families, all teachers and health professionals need to read. It is a great conversation starter and can help make a difference to help students like Hannah Baker along with taking bullying and negative behaviours seriously and recognizing the signs when a student needs help and guiding them through the complex system of mental health resources. Please take the time to read this book – it can be read in a day and the time spent turning pages will cause readers to reflect and be conscious of the impact of their words and actions on others.