Netflix launched Season 2 of its smash hit series 13 Reasons Why on May 18. With the “gravity” of issues featured in the series that debuted in 2017—suicide, bullying, sexual assault, substance abuse, and school shootings—a coalition of mental health organizations issued a statement of concern to parents, educators, and professionals “in an effort to help reduce the risk of a tragedy.”
Suicide Voices of Education (SAVE), which issued the statement, also announced the launch of a website containing information, resources, and toolkits for youth/peers, parents, educators and clinicians/professionals to address the specific topics raised in the episodes. Click here to access the website.
Netflix itself, following the intense criticism it received from mental health experts after the launch of Season 1 in March 2017, has created a website including a warning video, discussion guide, and other resources. The page includes the warning: “This show is rated MA for mature audiences, it covers many issues including depression, sexual assault and suicide. If you are struggling, this series may not be right for you or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult.” Click here to access the Netflix 13 Reasons Why information website.
The Sophie Fund created a web page with links to information and resources about 13 Reasons Why. The page contains expert studies and commentaries discussing how the series creates risks for suicide ideation and contagion among young people by romanticizing suicide, downplaying the reality of mental health struggles, and undermining the roles of parents and school counselors in supporting young people in distress. Click here to access The Sophie Fund web page for 13 Reasons Why resources.
Here are the recommendations released by the coalition of mental health organizations in its statement of concern:
1. For vulnerable and at-risk youth (for example those living with depression or an anxiety disorder) we encourage families to make a thoughtful decision about whether or not to watch 13 Reasons Why because of the triggering impact it might have on them. We recommend using the show’s TV rating as a source of guidance about the intensity of the content. Some of the story lines could be quite upsetting and result in them needing additional monitoring, support and/or treatment.
2. If your teens do watch the series, make an effort to watch with them. This will allow you the opportunity to monitor the impact the show has on your child. It also affords you the chance to talk after each episode and ensure that they are comfortable enough to continue watching.
3. If you are not able to watch together, talk with your teens about their thoughts, reactions and their feelings about the content. Check in with them multiple times as it can take a few days to process the content and they will likely continue to talk about the show with their peers. Let them know that they can come to you with questions or worries about themselves or their friends and that you will be there to listen and help guide them.
4. Reassure youth that fiction and reality are not the same thing. Even though some might believe that what they have seen on television is or feels like reality, it is critical that you help them understand it is not and that the outcomes from the series do not have to be their outcomes.
5. Learn what resources are available in your local community where you can find help if needed. These might include: a local public health agency, a mental health professional, the counselors in your child’s school, or a crisis phone service in your area. Knowing who you can reach out to for support is a good prevention strategy.
The release of 13 Reasons Why Season 2 coincided with another deadly school shooting on May 18, this time in Sante Fe, Texas, where 10 people—eight students and two teachers—were killed by a 17-year-old student who reportedly confessed to the violent rampage. (Early reports indicated that the suspect had been bullied in school and was suicidal.)
The Jed Foundation, a national mental health and suicide prevention organization, added this statement to its concerns about 13 Reasons Why Season 2:
In light of the gun violence depicted in 13 Reasons Why and the devastating school shootings on Friday, we want to remind you how to be safe if you are involved in an active shooting, urge media to follow guidelines for safe reporting on these incidents, and provide tips for discussing and coping with these terrible events. What to do if you find yourself in an active shooting:
—RUN and escape, if possible. Call 911 once you’re in a safe place.
—HIDE, if escape is not possible. Once you feel safe, try to reach out for help silently (i.e. text, social media, email, put a sign up in the window).
—FIGHT as an absolute last resort. The first response is never to confront an active shooter.
“Art, Wine, and Wood” is an exhibition featuring work by local artists Kristina M. Baier and Lisa M. Narloch, at Leidenfrost Vineyards in Hector through May and June. The artists are generously donating proceeds from the exhibition to The Sophie Fund in honor of their friend Jason Seymour.
Baier is a photographer and painter who works in abstract photography, mixed media, and other modes of expression. Narloch, who operates Wood Owl Original Designs, creates art from rescued wood.
“Harvest Moon,” painting by Kristina M. Baier
Lisa M. Narloch, at the May 11 opening of “Art, Wine, and Wood,” Leidenfrost Vineyards, in Hector, NY
Wood designs, by Lisa M. Narloch
Wood boxes, by Lisa M. Narloch
Hearts, by Lisa M. Narloch
“Waves & Ripples,” multimedia by Kristina M. Baier
George Desdunes, son of a single-mom Haitian immigrant, joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at Cornell University in part because he thought fraternity connections would help him find a good job after graduation. He never made it to that proud day. In the early hours of Friday February 25, 2011, the 19-year-old sophomore died in a hazing incident at SAE’s house on McGraw Place.
Kidnapped, blindfolded, wrists and ankles bound with duct tape, Desdunes drank a shot of vodka for every incorrect answer to a trivia question until he passed out. Fraternity pledges hoisted him onto a leather sofa, where custodians found him motionless a few hours later and called 911. Marie Andre wailed when she saw the corpse of her son in the morgue.
When President Martha E. Pollack announced frat-house reforms last week, it was but the latest effort by successive Cornell administrations since the senseless death of George Desdunes to put an end to the hazing scourge that, as Pollack puts it, “threatens the health and safety of our students and casts a shadow over our community of scholars.” Pollack set ambitious goals for her administration: not only to “eradicate hazing,” but to “present an example for other universities to follow.”
It remains to be seen if Pollack’s announced changes—banning hard liquor, stiffer penalties for hazing violations, mandatory educational programs, tighter house supervision—will have any greater impact than the ballyhooed initiative “to end pledging as we know it” put forth in 2011 by David J. Skorton, who was Cornell’s president at the time of the tragedy on McGraw Place.
An illustrious Cornell figure, Skorton, a cardiologist, is currently head of the Smithsonian Institution; his name and words are engraved in stone on an edifice on the Ithaca campus—the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives (“Bring your strength and spirit and heart to develop a caring community everywhere there is the name Cornell”). Yet Skorton’s own ambitious effort to stamp out hazing—which he heralded in a forceful Op-Ed in the New York Times—seems to have been a total failure. By Cornell’s own reckoning, at least 28 of the university’s fraternities—nearly half of them—have been sanctioned for hazing since Desdunes’s death.
Cornell disbanded the SAE chapter for a minimum five-year period after George Desdunes died. A judge found the fraternity guilty on state hazing charges and imposed a $12,000 fine. Three SAE pledges were acquitted of hazing charges. Desdunes’s mother brought a $25 million wrongful death suit against the national fraternity, and eventually reached a multi-million dollar out of court settlement.
Pollack’s initiative, which omitted any reference to Skorton’s “comprehensive strategy,” appears to be driven by another spate of cases and allegations this academic year—her first full year at Cornell—including the three-year suspension on hazing charges of the Gamma Theta chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity last Friday as Pollack was making her announcement in an email to the Cornell community. The hazing allegations against Sigma Nu cited by the Cornell Daily Sun included phrases like “I want this to stop,” and “makes me want to kill myself.”
A Cornell hazing incident made national headlines in February when the university’s Zeta Beta Tau was put on probation over a fat-shaming contest. Called the “pig roast,” new fraternity brothers were awarded points for having sex with overweight women.
Pollack announced changes to be enacted in four phases.
—Substantiated acts of hazing will result in a chapter’s suspension and loss of recognition. A minimum of three years will be applied for those cases that include coerced alcohol or other drug consumption, sexual and related misconduct, or other forms of violence or mentally abusive behavior that poses a threat to health “and safety…
—Hard alcohol (more than 30 percent alcohol by volume) is not permitted in a residential chapter house at any time.
Effective Fall Semester 2018:
—Each Greek letter chapter must submit a new member education plan prior to participating in new member recruitment. Chapter leadership will assume accountability for adhering to the approved plan.
—Prospective and current members must participate in mandatory educational programming (including, but not limited to, university expectations, hazing awareness, and policies on alcohol, drug use, and sexual and related misconduct) in order to be eligible to participate in the new-member recruitment and intake processes.
—A systemwide, online scorecard will be published and updated annually to include, among other things, the full judicial history of each chapter. This website will be publicized to the campus community and to the parents of all students.
—A comprehensive review of event management guidelines will be conducted and submitted for my approval. The review will include, but not be limited to, the training required for sober monitors, the use of independent bystander intervention services, the distribution of beer and wine for large events, and the number of large events permitted.
Effective Spring Semester 2019:
—Leadership positions in residential Greek letter organizations must be held by junior or senior students who reside in the chapter house.
—A comprehensive review of the Chapter Review Board process that governs recognition for fraternities and sororities will be conducted and submitted for my approval. The review will include, but not be limited to, structure, procedures, process, membership and community expectations.
Effective Fall Semester 2021:
—All residential fraternities and sororities must have a full-time, live-in adviser with clearly stated objectives and expectations for the role.
“The behavior in question goes well beyond innocent fun. It includes extremely coercive, demeaning, sexually inappropriate and physically dangerous activities that jeopardize students’ health and lives. The danger of such reckless actions cannot be ignored. Such activities are not tolerated in society and must stop in our Greek letter organizations… I do not take these steps lightly.”
Six and a half years ago, Skorton expressed similar determination in his Times Op-Ed:
“This tragedy convinced me that it was time—long past time—to remedy practices of the fraternity system that continue to foster hazing, Yesterday, I directed student leaders of Cornell’s Greek chapters to develop a system of member recruitment and initiation that does not involve ‘pledging’—the performance of demeaning or dangerous acts as a condition of membership. While fraternity and sorority chapters will be invited to suggest alternatives for inducting new members, I will not approve proposals that directly or indirectly encourage hazing and other risky behavior. National fraternities and sororities should end pledging across all campuses; Cornell students can help lead the way.”
In a November 28, 2012 memo titled “Plan to Meet President Skorton’s Challenge ‘To End Pledging as We Know It,’” Susan Murphy, vice president for Student and Academic Services, announced that Shorton had approved a “comprehensive strategy” for eradicating hazing.
Based on the recommendations of a special task force, the Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Council, and university administrators, staff, and alumni, the comprehensive strategy, as outlined by the Cornell Chronicle, included the following phases:
Effective immediately, fraternities and sororities must:
—Remove the “power differential” between members and initiates, which often leads to coercive behavior, and construct a model that treats all members, prospective or current, as equals;
—Transition from a pledge model to a membership development model that focuses on the organization’s core principles and extends through graduation;
—Secure approval for orientation events, by Cornell and such partners as the national organization, before they occur;
—Shorten new membership orientation to six weeks in 2012-13 and to four weeks thereafter;
—Communicate transparently, including online postings, about all infractions;
—Increase alumni involvement.
Effective Spring Semester 2013:
—The start of formal decision-making about live-in advisers in chapter houses and other issues.
Effective Fall Semester 2014:
—Training will be coordinated and standardized for live-in, chapter and alumni advisers, and consistent academic standards will be established for the Greek system.
“I applaud the work of students, staff and alumni to design a new membership approach for the Greek community,” Skorton said afterwards. “It is clear that progress has been made through this collaborative process. It is equally clear that we are not yet where we need to be.”
The Greek community is the heart of much of the social life at Cornell. About one-third of the university’s 15,000 undergraduates belong to one of 64 recognized fraternities and sororities. Neither Pollack nor Skorton proposed an indefinite alcohol ban on the Greek system—though most undergrads and virtually all pledges are under the New York State drinking age of 21—and both vigorously defended fraternities as part of a proud Cornell tradition.
“Greek letter organizations have a long history at Cornell University and have been a prominent feature of the undergraduate experience since 1868,” said Pollack last week. “The Greek system is part of our university’s history and culture, and we should maintain it because at its best, it can foster friendship, community service and leadership,” said Skorton in 2011.
In its editorial after Pollack’s announcement last week, the Cornell Daily Sun called the new changes “a good first step” but voiced skepticism about their ultimate effectiveness. The Sun said many of the ideas had been tried before, and speculated that Pollack’s alcohol ban would be unenforceable or ignored. “We have a new president, but a very old university, and old habits have an old habit of dying hard,” the Sun said.
“Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, daily functioning, and ability to relate to others. Mental illness doesn’t develop because of a person’s character or intelligence. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, a mental illness is a disorder of the brain that can make it difficult to cope with the ordinary demands of life. No one is to blame—not the person, and not the family.”
So begins “Navigating a Mental Health Crisis,” a new resource guide for to help those experiencing a mental health emergency, published just in time for Mental Health Awareness Month.
The guide is published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As NAMI explains:
When mental illness is present, the potential for crisis is never far from mind. Crisis episodes related to mental illness can feel incredibly overwhelming. There’s the initial shock, followed by a flood of questions—the most prominent of which is: “What can we do?”
People experiencing mental illness—and the people who care for them—need information. However, that information is not always readily available and the search for answers may require more energy and persistence than possible in times of crisis.
“Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency” provides important, potentially life-saving information for people experiencing mental health crises and their loved ones. This guide outlines what can contribute to a crisis, warning signs that a crisis is emerging, strategies to help de-escalate a crisis, available resources and so much more.
Like any other health crisis, it’s important to address a mental health emergency quickly and effectively. With mental health conditions, crises can be difficult to predict because, often, there are no warning signs. Crises can occur even when treatment plans have been followed and mental health professionals are involved. Unfortunately, unpredictability is the nature of mental illness.
Unlike other health emergencies, people experiencing mental health crises often don’t receive instructions or materials on what to expect after the crisis. That is why we created this guide, so people experiencing mental health emergencies and their loved ones can have the answers and information they need when they need it.
On Thursday May 17 at 7:30 a.m. the organization will hold its annual breakfast celebration at the Country Club of Ithaca, 189 Pleasant Grove Road. The event will honor Lynette Scofield, Claudia Brenner, Sandy True, and the Cayuga at Twilight Committee. Tickets are available for $25 via Eventbrite. Support a great local mental health organization.
On Thursday May 31, F&CS hosts a community screening of The Mask You Live In, a film directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom that follows a diverse group of boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. The screening to be followed by a panel discussion takes place at Cinemapolis, 120 East Green Street, from 6-9 p.m. Reserve seats at the Cinempolis website.
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