GREENVILLE – A recent “One Call” and letter went out to Greenville Middle School (GMS) students’ families to warn them about two concerns that might negatively impact the students.
The letter is in response to a game “Blue Whale” and a Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” both involving suggestions of suicide. The letter, signed by GMS Counselor Tiffany Fine, GMS Principals Chris Mortensen and Rhonda Schaar and GMS Vice-Principal Sandy Snyder stated, “We are very interested in the health and welfare of the whole child and need to bring some recent concerns to your attention.”
The game “Blue Whale,” also known as, “A Silent House,” “A Sea of Whales” and “Wake Me Up at 4:20 A.M.” is an interaction between the player and an administrator, who gives the player a daily task. Some of these tasks are very simple, such as waking up at odd times or watching horror movies. But the tasks slowly begin to get more sinister, eventually telling players of the game to inflict harm on themselves. On the 50th day, the administrator instructs the players to kill themselves.
Reports have suggested that this game has led to teen suicide. Reports have also alleged that a 21-year-old Philipp Budeikin is the ringleader of the game and had been allegedly detained, and charged with organizing eight groups between 2013 and 2016 which “promote suicide.”
According to the GMS letter, the game has threatened players that their parents will be killed if the students do not follow through with the game.
“We are not aware of any GMS students involved in the challenge, but we will continue to be vigilant and proactive,” the letter stated.
The second concern is a fictional Netflix drama “13 Reasons Why,” based on a 2007 young adult novel written by Jay Asher. The series, aimed at teens, follows a group of students after the suicide of a classmate. The deceased student leaves behind cassette tapes for 13 specific individuals, that she claims were responsible for her final decision. The series shows the affects these tapes have on these individuals, without any adult involvement.
“The graphic dramatization of the main character’s reasoning includes graphic representations about bullying, sexual assault, alcohol/drug abuse and manipulation and more,” the letter stated. “Netflix acknowledges the content is not suitable for young audiences. The series is making national headlines. Supporters praise the series for its boldness in addressing the very serious and timely topic of youth suicide. However, critics argue the show depicts several inaccurate facts regarding suicide on the important topics.”
According to Licensed Clinical Social Worker Elana Premack Sandler in her April 24 Psychology Today article “13 Reasons Why ‘13 Reasons Why’ Isn’t Getting It Right: Why the Netflix series doesn’t help prevent suicide,” the series focuses on a narrow narrative that implies that bullying leads to suicide.
“No one thing leads to suicide, and many people who experience bullying (or sexual assault, or any of the other very challenging experiences Hannah faces) do not go on to attempt suicide,” Sandler said.
Another article, “13 Reasons Why: Should Parents Be Concerned About This Netflix Series?” by Dr. John Ackerman, published April 13, in: Behavioral Health, Kids & Teens, Parenting said, mainstream media portrayals of suicide and mental health issues are often inaccurate and can reinforce stereotypes that lead to increased stigma and discrimination toward those with mental health struggles.
“Research suggests that youth are more susceptible than any other age-group to a phenomenon called ‘suicide contagion’,” Ackerman said. “‘Suicide contagion’ exists when there is an increase in suicides after being exposed to the suicidal behavior of others. Exposure to graphic, sensationalized, highly detailed, or simplified portrayals of suicide can result in copycat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide, particularly in teens and young adults.”
“As a parent, it is important to consider whether your teen is ready for a series as intense as ‘13 Reasons Why’, Ackerman added. “If your teen is going to watch the series, we encourage you to discuss with them their reactions to the show. Better yet, watch it with them.”
The letter from GMS said, “Teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, and administrators are available to talk with students who are feeling overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, hopelessness or other issues. Urge your child to seek out a trusted adult. If you, or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.”
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