A leading North Wales Doctor is encouraging teenagers experiencing suicidal thoughts to seek support or access online resources which can offer hope and practical ideas on staying safe.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Alys Cole King, says it’s vital that teenagers are aware that with the right support they can get through tough times.
Her comments come amid controversy surrounding the popular Netflix TV series ’13 Reasons Why’, which has been widely criticised for its portrayal of youth suicide.
The series follows the life of a US high-school student driven to take her own life, leaving behind 13 tapes identifying the people who drove her to suicide. Filming of a second season of the hit drama has already begun.
Dr Cole-King (pictured) is among many mental health professionals who are critical of the show’s portrayal of suicide. She said: “I’m dismayed that the makers of ’13 Reasons Why’ have either ignored or broken national and international media guidelines on suicide safety and responsible media portrayal of suicide. The show is overly sensationalist and ignores all the expert advice that was provided to the programme makers.
“It glamourises suicide, suggesting that suicide is a plausible solution to life’s problems, portrays suicide as a means of gaining peer respect and does not accurately portray the common factors that underlie suicide in young people.”
Dr Cole-King added: “This programme has undoubtedly been ‘binge watched’ by millions of teenagers around the world, including thousands of teenagers and young people in North Wales. It’s therefore vital that all viewers, especially vulnerable young people, know that suicide is preventable with early identification, the right support and treatment, hope and the removal of access to means. The adults around them also need to know how to talk about suicide to the young people they care about.”
Dr Cole-King was recently named one of the most influential women in medicine by the respected Medical Women’s Journal, and nominated for a top award in recognition of her pioneering work with policy makers, voluntary bodies and academics to raise awareness of suicide and self-harm.
Her expertise lies in supporting people with mental health problems at Glan Clwyd hospital as well as carrying out a specialist suicide and self-harm prevention role across the whole of North Wales.
In 2010, Dr Cole-King co-founded Connecting with People, a not-for-profit organisation whose core principle is that suicide is preventable and that everyone in society – not just mental health professionals – can play a role. She led the development of the SAFETool, a framework for assessing and responding to people at risk of suicide, bite sized training and leaflets and online self-help resources.
Dr Cole-King said: “Distressed teenagers need to know that thousands of people experiencing difficulties in life have thoughts of suicide, but that with the right support they can get through the tough times. It’s a case of knowing what you can do to help yourself, or to help others in distress.Having a personal Safety Plan can help.”
“A Safety Plan includes a set of activities, a trusted adult to contact and a couple of helpline numbers and websites. Even something as simple as writing down a reason for living or keeping a photo or reminder of something positive and looking at it when distressed, can help a person keep themselves safe until they get help.”
“We wish we could reach every young person who is thinking that life isn’t worth living and help them to see that suicidal thoughts are a sign that they need to change something in their life, not to end their life”.
- For the full statement on ‘13 Reasons Why’ and some useful advice on how a concerned adult can speak to a young person see: www.connectingwithpeople.org/content/statement-netflix-series-13-reasons-why
- Connecting with People has produced a series of leaflets on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, providing information both for individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts and for those who are concerned about them. These are available online through the Royal College of Psychiatrists or the Connecting with People website: http://Connectingwithpeople.org/ucancope
- See http://www.connectingwithpeople.org/StayingSafe for specific advice and guidance on who to approach if you are worried about a young person in distress
- CALL Helpline offers free emotional support and information/literature on mental health and related matters to people in Wales. Tel: 0800 132 737, visit www.callhelpline.org.uk or Text 'HELP' to 81066.