How the news, Netflix and social media influence how schools talk about suicide

Monday, December 3, 2018

DirectionsRead the bullet points on the Logan Paul story; then read one of the two articles from the USA Today or Vanity Fair, depending on the age of your students; watch the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video providing teen reaction of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why; and answer the discussion questions.

Note: Let your students know that if they, or anyone they know, is considering suicide or needs help that they can always talk with a trusted adult, including a teacher, counselor or parent, and that they may also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 where counselors are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Background/context: At the start of 2018, Youtube star Logan Paul’s decision to post a video showing the body of a suicide victim in Japan raised critical issues about how the media, which includes everything from Youtube to Netflix to news outlets, discuss suicide and what effects such coverage might have on young people. You may now read the summary bullet points below, or, if time allows, take a few minutes to read one of the news articles below.

For a brief, clear article on Paul’s story for middle school students, read the USA Today article hereFor high school students, read the Vanity Fair article, Why Logan Paul Should Really Worry Us: It’s not so much the popular, controversial YouTuber himself, but what he represents.” Ask your class if they agree or disagree with the author’s premise and why.

SRL Reacts: Students weigh in on Netflix's '13 Reasons Why' from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo.

Summary: 

1. YouTube vlogger Logan Paul received widespread criticism for posting a video on New Year’s Eve, before the 1st of January 2018, that showed the body of a suicide victim in Japan.

2. Paul has 15 million Youtube subscribers, many of whom are young girls of elementary and middle-school age. He has since apologized for posting the video.

3. Mental health experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have long stated that sensationalizing suicide can influence people considering suicide.

4. Last year, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why caused a nationwide debate about whether the provocative series was an appropriate and safe way to discuss teen suicide. Take a look at the NewsHour SRL video above which includes reactions to the show from teenagers across the country.

5. After years in decline, the suicide rate in the United States began increasing once more in 1999. This NewsHour article outlines CDC research showing a spike in suicide for girls age 10-14 from 2001 to 2014. The suicide rate has also increased by 30 percent among young men during this time. Despite rising rates, “We know that suicide is a preventable public health problem,” said Deb Stone, a behavioral scientist with the CDC.

  • Schools, workplaces and health care settings can play a role in suicide prevention by educating people about suicide risk factors and decreasing stigma.​
  • If time permits, read the archives from this NewsHour Twitter chat with mental health experts on the rise of suicide in teen girls. Discuss some of the pressures facing young people today, both boys and girls. Then ask why it’s helpful to talk about these issues with others like friends but also a trusted adult.
  • If you hear about news stories over social media that upset you, please don’t keep it to yourself. Talk with an adult you trust, including a parent, teacher, school counselor or principal. If you or anyone is considering suicide or needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 where counselors are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Discussion questions:

1.  Essential question: How important is it to talk about suicide at school?

2. Why are mental health experts concerned about the media (i.e. Netflix, social media, Youtube, news outlets, etc.) sensationalizing suicide?

3. Youtube has policies that prohibit certain graphic material. Why do you think these policies were created? What should happen if a person does not follow these policies?

4. Media literacy: What is vlogging? What are positive and negative effects of vlogging?

5. Given celebrity vloggers’ popularity with young people, do you think they should be held more accountable for their actions, particularly around sensitive issues, including suicide?

6. What should you do if you are worried about the mental health of yourself or a friend, including thoughts of suicide? Who are people you can talk with? Why is important to talk with someone about your feelings?

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