Cree Health Board calls for careful viewing of popular drama 13 Reasons Why
Critics say show offers irresponsible portrayal of teen suicide
Health officials in the James Bay region of Quebec have added their voices to the criticism of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
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The show is a fictional series about the suicide of a young woman, Hannah Baker, and is based on a best-selling novel by Jay Asher. It is very popular among youth and the Cree Nation is no exception.
The show has also been severely criticized by mental health professionals worldwide for its graphic and potentially irresponsible portrayal of suicide, as well as a lack of proper warnings. Netflix has responded to the criticism by adding more warnings for viewers about graphic content.
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"[The show] glorifies suicide. It's been a very complex issue among our Cree Nation and our youth," said Juliana Matoush-Snowboy, Coordinator of Mental Health with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB).
In a statement released yesterday, the board said it is concerned about the show's potential impact on the youth of Eeyou Istchee.
Statistics from the health board show suicide rates in Eeyou Istchee are on par with the Quebec average, but rates of "hospitalisations for trauma for self-harm" between 2008 and 2013 were 4.2 times greater than the rate in Quebec. Almost 40 per cent of those hospitalizations were girls and young women, compared to 18.6 per cent for the general Quebec population.
Dramatic realism hits home
"I stopped watching the series because it gave me many psychological triggers," said Allison Coon-Come, a young filmmaker from Mistissini. She said she has struggled with mental health issues and considered suicide when she was quite young.
"I believe it depicts what people who struggle with mental health issues go through," Coon-Come said.
"I appreciate the show for its attempt to help the general public see what suffering [with] mental illness feels like. I consider myself to be very much a Hannah Baker. The only difference between her and I is my 'silver linings.'"
Cassandra Danyluk, a 28 year-old Wemindji woman, has also seen the series.
"It was extremely emotional to watch, but for some reason I could not keep my eyes off of it," she said.
"I felt like I could relate to most of the characters on the show from different points in my life. It was very sad, but I think it shows the truth of how hurtful and far-reaching bullying can be, even the slightest bit."
Danyluk also said she thinks the show is a good eye opener for bullies to see the impacts of what they are doing, and allows victims of bullying to see and consider the lasting and horrible effects suicide has on the people around them. She added that the show opens up the possibility of discussion on the difficult subject of suicide.
Not for younger eyes
Matoush-Snowboy said the Cree health board encourages parents to make sure younger children aren't watching the series, which is rated not suitable for people under the age of 17. The board also recommends parents of teens who are watching the series watch it with them, and have an "open dialogue about the show and its messages."
"It's important that the dialogue is there," Matoush-Snowboy said. ''I think it's important to be proactive about suicide awareness and prevention. The Cree Health board is showing a lot of active participation in doing that with some community organizations or professionals and we need to advance in that way.''
The health board is advising parents to be alert for the warning signs of someone in distress, such as a loss of interest in activities, isolation, frequent crying or increased anxiety.
If you or someone you know is grappling with suicide in Quebec's Cree communities, call the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness help line at 1-855-242,3310, or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.