There have been mixed feelings about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Some people feel that 13 Reasons Why glorifies suicide, while others feel it actually reveals what young people are going through. Cassie Fox, the Bosslady at IZRA has responded creatively by making a short film called 1 Reason Why Not- A Response to 13 Reasons Why. In just one month the film was viewed almost 100,000 times on the IZRA Facebook Page. Viewers, including Headspace, loved it so much they shared it over 1000 times.
Cassie facilitates creative and resilience workshops for high school students. I previously took part in of one of the creative workshops as a singer/songwriter and it was an amazing experience to share my songs with the students. Tragically suicide is the leading cause of death in young people and as a mum of four kids this is just devastating. So because Cassie spends so much time with young people, I have picked her brains to find out why this is happening and what we can do to prevent this tragedy that has been brought to light through the series 13 Reasons Why .
INTERVIEW WITH CASSIE FOX
EZEREVE: What is IZRA and why did you start it?
CASSIE: At IZRA we run Creative and Resilience Workshops in schools because we want to help equip students with purpose and strength.
I believe it is important when communicating with teenagers that you speak on their level and creatively, with excellence. There are so many messages being communicated to them everyday, so if we want to get through, we have to communicate on the same level.
EZEREVE: Why did you decide to create the film ‘1 Reason Why Not’?
CASSIE: Some people have really related to the Netflix TV series 13 Reasons Why, but I felt it raised a lot of issues that it didn’t resolve. In talking to schools and chaplains we were hearing that some students were imitating the negative behaviours they saw in the show and were triggered, so we wanted to find a response to share. The only responses we could find though were written articles and I don’t know many 13 year olds who will read through articles when they have been confronted by something that disturbs or triggers them. So we decided to develop a response in the same medium as the TV show, that demonstrated life after trauma and suicide ideation. It was really important to us that the film feature young people, sharing their stories of reaching out for help, rather than isolating themselves.
We also created a free Discussion Guide for Parents and Teachers because we spoke to so many that didn’t know how to talk to their young people about the TV series and about suicide. This guide provides conversation starters to facilitate those vital discussions.
EZEREVE: What are the reasons why there is a rise in suicide in recent years?
CASSIE: I think one of the contributing factors to the rise in suicides among young people is the increase of social media that is constantly bombarding them with discontentment. Every time they scroll through their phone, they are exposed to other people’s highlight reels, while they live out their own reality. Comparison is proven to be one of the most toxic feelings we can experience as humans.
EZEREVE: What signs should parents and community members look out for that would suggest a young person is suicidal?
CASSIE: There are great organisations with a lot of helpful information on this, such as Headspace that parents should research, but a key sign we talk about at IZRA is isolation. We were made to do life in community where we share the highs and lows of life, but when a young person isolates themselves, it can become really difficult for them to navigate the challenges they face and maintain perspective.
EZEREVE: What can parents do to build resilience in their teens?
CASSIE: Building resilience in a teenager can include helping them identify triggers and find healthy coping mechanisms to manage their emotional and physical health. Another key value to build in a teenager is the understanding that as humans, we need to do life together and that there will be times that they need to reach out for help. The more we build this into our culture as normal, the easier it will be for our young people to get help.
EZEREVE: If a teenager is struggling with mental health and is feeling suicidal what should they do to get help?
CASSIE: It is really important that they speak to someone about what is going on in their life. Ideally they would speak to someone they trust like a parent, a school counsellor or teacher, but if they don’t feel comfortable with that, it is important they reach out to professionals like headspace or Lifeline. Understanding that we weren’t made to do life alone makes it a lot easier to reach out for help when you are struggling.
EZEREVE: What practical things can parents do to make their teens more mentally healthy?
CASSIE: We are big believers in the power of purpose and hope. There is an old proverb that says “without purpose or vision, the people perish”, so we try to connect young people with something they can find purpose in. It doesn’t have to be what they want to do with their lives forever, but if they can find purpose in something and start to imagine a good future for themselves, that goes a long way in helping them process current challenges.
Also important are things like regular exercise, being a part of a community they find acceptance in and learning the value of processing experiences, like talking to someone or finding a creative outlet.
EZEREVE: What advice do you have to give a community that is grieving from a suicide? How does the community heal?
CASSIE: The best advice I have is to grieve together, not in isolation. In my community, we just recently had a friend of ours tragically suicide. It was incredibly shocking and frightening, but in such a beautiful way, something that has so much potential for damage has actually seen our community become stronger, as they have grieved together. There is power in experiencing pain and sharing burdens together.
Suicide always leaves a lot of confusion, hurt and fear, which is extremely damaging to a community when people suffer in isolation or try to process by blaming. I have seen beauty from ashes though as our community has stood together and vowed to grow in acceptance and unity.
After reading Cassie’s answers I’m really going to try keep social media away from my kids for as long as possible, maybe even forever! I’m going to make sure they know it’s OK to ask for help and remind them that we’re meant to live life in a community, not in isolation. I’m also going to be proactive in helping my kids to discover their purpose, to help them get through the hard times. If your kids have watched 13 Reasons Why, consider downloading IZRA’s free parent and teacher discussion guide HERE.
If you’d like information about IZRA facilitating a workshop you can find out more HERE.