Netflix series raises concerns about suicide, social media

Naika Venant became the local face of a growing national problem when, in January, the 14-year-old killed herself during a live feed on Facebook.

She is one of several stories of online suicide and violence that are surfacing across the country, and on Wednesday, Facebook’s founder announced plans to do something about it.

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen people hurting themselves and others on Facebook,” Mark Zuckerberg posted. “It’s heartbreaking…”

His company is hiring 3,000 more people to monitor live feeds, with one goal being to track down teenagers in trouble before it’s too late.

Social media is one concern, and a new Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why, is another.

“I’m about to tell you the story of my life — more specifically why my life ended,” the show’s protaganist, Hannah Baker, says at the start of the series.

Several South Florida parents expressed concern when asked about the series’ content.

“I heard about it, yes,” said Carmen Moffett. “About it glamorizing suicide and making it seem like an option for a way out when things are hard.”

Dr. Amanda Jensen-Doss, an associate professor in the University of Miami’s Department of Psychology, said the show does raise concerns for experts.

“For some teenagers, this show could be very risky to watch,” Jensen-Doss said. “We have safety concerns about vulnerable teenagers watching this and so having parents together with them could help prevent that.”

Netflix has tacked on additional warnings about the content.

Officials at South Florida schools said that’s a start.

Miami-Dade County Schools Pyschologist Frank Zenere said that, for some, the show is dangerous.

“As a school mental health professional, I am very concerned,” he said. “I think it has the potential, a realistic potential of influencing some of our most vulnerable students into potentially taking some type of suicidal action.”

For that reason, the Miami-Dade and Broward school systems are sending out warning letters to parents this week. Palm Beach County already sent a warning to parents.

The Palm Beach superintendent warned of an increase in at-risk behavior and pointed to “13 Reasons Why.”

Whether it’s on TV or social media, experts said, exposure to stories of suicide can lead young people down a dark path.

“What we call the contagion process, where students or youth in general have taken suicidal actions or actually completed suicide because of sensationalized media, and we’re trying to avoid that at all costs.”

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