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Reasons to talk

Clay, a character in "13 Reasons Why" exams one of the tapes that his friend Hannah Baker left him after her death by suicide. Netflix promotion photo acquired by Forum News Service

By John R. Russett and Samantha Bengs

Editor's note: This is the second in an ongoing series of stories pertaining to mental health.

To most adults, the once-familiar, all-encompassing world of teenage life made sense, but by the time they had teenagers of their own, that world was little more than a distant memory.

At least, that's what the creators of the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" argue, which by their account makes the show a jumping-off point to important discussions surrounding youth and mental health.

While it would be hard to argue the series hasn't sparked conversation, not everyone agrees on the value the show brings to progressing the mental health discussion.

The drama is based on the 2007 Jay Asher novel of the same name about Hannah Baker, a young girl who kills herself and leaves behind 13 audiotapes detailing how the behavior of her classmates led to her suicide.

Critics came at the series hard and fast for violating what they claim as best practices for talking about suicide, slamming the show primarily for its detailed depiction of Baker's suicide.

"It was irresponsible because they knew," said Sue Abderholden, National Alliance on Mental Illness-Minnesota executive director. "They knew that this was not a good practice and a dangerous thing to do, and they did it anyway."

Talk of the series grew loud enough within the Hudson School District that Superintendent Nick Ouellette sent an email to parents to address the din.

"Sadly, suicide occurs in all communities," Ouellette wrote. "It doesn't discriminate. Some of our students and families have been impacted by suicide. Shows such as '13 Reasons Why' can raise complicated questions for our students."

Some students had taken it upon themselves to start the conversation.

Hudson student's story

In January 2016, Hudson High School senior Kaitlin DuLyn tried to kill herself. She did it again two months later.

Kaitlyn DuLyn

At the Miss Hudson competition in July, DuLyn stood in front of nearly 700 people and spoke publicly about her struggles with depression for the first time.

"I jumped in the deep end with that one," she said. "It was risky, but a lot of good came out of it."

DuLyn spoke again in March as part of a three-part mental health series organized by Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson.

"No one ever talked about it," DuLyn said, as part of her reasoning for speaking out.

For her, the Netflix show goes both ways.

"It has a good message, but it's not the best way of portraying it," she said.

DuLyn agrees that people need to pay more attention to what they say to one another.

One aspect of the "13 Reasons Why" that didn't sit well with her, however, was the blame cast on others for the main character's choices. The show follows her friend Clay's struggles with the audiotapes.

Abderholden picked up on that as well.

"No one's to blame, that is not something you put on someone else," Abderholden said. "To blame (suicide) on someone else is really a horrible thing to do to other people."

More than mental health

Throughout the halls of Red Wing High School, junior Hannah Coyle said student feedback to the series was mixed. Within days of its release, Coyle said she heard many classmates discussing the show's heavy themes.

"The show did a nice job of portraying the situations faced by the characters," she said. "As a high school student, there are moments where I can relate to what both Hannah and Clay are saying and feeling. For people who weren't totally convinced mental illness is a real issue or if they didn't believe it was a big deal, this show helped highlight the real problems people face."

Early results of the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, which is conducted every three years in fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th grades, published by the Minnesota Department of Health "raise concerns about increasing mental and emotional health issues facing young people," according to those who conducted the survey.

Beyond the show's main focus of mental illness, Coyle said seeing issues related to sexual assault, slut shaming and bullying play out on screen was equally important.

"The show brought to life some of the things people are too scared to accept as real," Coyle said.

There is at least one caveat, however, when speaking to students, according to Abderholden.

"If you're talking to students who are healthy and well, they are probably saying it is not a big deal," she said. "But if you talk to students that are vulnerable, that's what we are most concerned about."

INTERACT: Mental health fact and figures

Fostering conversation

Hudson High School junior Carson Madigan said he had a hard time talking about his struggles, which built throughout the fall and football season, reaching a tipping point in December.

"It's hard at first, because you have to realize that you are yourself and if these issues are a part of you, then they're a part of you," he said.

His goal is to foster more conversations about mental health and heighten awareness to the issue for teens.

"I'm trying to get my experience out there to more kids, because I think that stigma is still very large on kids still not wanting to talk about it," Madigan said.

According to NAMI, the average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and intervention is eight to 10 years, with half of all lifetime mental illness beginning by 14 years old.

The mental health conversation is an important one. The highest dropout rate of any disability group is students 14 and older with a mental health condition, which sits at 37 percent.

CONTINUE READING: Streaming conversation; Don't know where to talk? Try the car, NAMI says.

Discussions are happening, Abderholden said. If parents want to make sure those discussions are happening in a safe and productive way, then they need to talk about it.

Netflix recently announced a second season of the series, with no release date set.

RELATED: Remembering Kristin, the first story in the ongoing mental health series.

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