Over the last week, I have really wanted to respond to the Netflix Series “13 Reasons Why”. However, when I tried to write something, at least seem half way intelligent, I would just stare blankly at the computer. So I thought…
Okay, just give it up. All the great commentary has been taken and everyone has said what you would have liked to say. Let it go!
That was it…I was satisfied with reading other counselors’ blog posts, accepting the statements made by experts, and viewing the webinars for educators. Then, last night happened!! As I was searching Pinterest (again, my fav!), I saw something that was utterly disturbing to me as a school counselor. It was a meme displaying the school counselor in the series, Mr. Porter, and at the bottom the teen had written, I hate Mr. Porter! He could have saved Hannah. Now, I am going to be honest and tell you that I have not watched the series. I have seen a few clips, read a lot of great blog posts, attended a webinar hosted by Kognito, and read the Tips for Educators (that is my extent of interest at this time of the year). However, I was very curious to read the dialogue between Hannah and Mr. Porter and you know what, Hannah blamed him too.
|The now infamous Mr. Porter|
In the script, here is how the dialogue starts. First a little background, if you are clueless, like me about the story line…
Hannah is recording her last tape which includes the meeting with the school counselor. At this point you can hear her voice dramatically say…
“One . . . last . . . try. I’m giving life one more chance. And this time, I’m getting help. I’m asking for help because I cannot do this alone. I’ve tried that. Of course, if you’re listening to this, I failed. Or he failed. and if he fails, the deal is sealed. Only one person stands between you and this collection of audiotapes: Mr. Porter. Mr. Porter, let’s see how you do.”
Fast forward…after the disappointing meeting with Mr. Porter, Hannah leaves and has made her decision to end her life.
“I’m walking down the hall. His door is closed behind me. It’s staying closed. He’s not coming. He’s letting me go. I think I’ve made myself very clear, but no one’s stepping forward to stop me.”
In her desperation for someone to help her in her darkest hours, the last person Hannah reaches out to is her school counselor, Mr. Porter. Unfortunately, we know what happens to Hannah in the story and Mr. Porter becomes the scapegoat (along with 12 other people). I am not here to judge the character, but I am concerned how at-risk students will view school counselors after watching this show. Unfortunately, this is not great PR for school counselors and I would dare to say that there are actual Mr. Porters who really exist.
My Goal for This Post…
The purpose of my post is not to lay blame on the school counselor in this series. In his experience or lack of experience, he may have thought he did his best. He had a limited amount of knowledge and may have believed his actions were appropriate for the situation (although I vehemently disagree!). Could he have done more? Of course!! Since there are many things we don’t know about this character, we can only speculate why he made the decision he made that day. Unfortunately, the failure of his character to act appropriately is making a big impact on how at risk students may see the school counselor in the future.
Why Do Counselors Like This Exist?
Why do professionals like Mr. Porter exist? It is not that they don’t care because the counselor seemed genuinely interested in what Hannah had to say. For instance, he wanted to know how she felt, he encouraged her to keep talking about the reasons for coming to see him, he was solution focused, and he picked up on her cue about her wanting to kill herself. Also, he seemed to have a good rapport with Hannah and she knew she could come to him (she even laughed a few times). He knew something was wrong and tried to convince her to stay. HOWEVER, there were many things he did not do as a professional school counselor. For instance, he did not provide informed consent to her regarding the limits of confidentiality, he did not contact her parents regarding the sexual assault that she reluctantly told him about (he wanted to bring her attacker in the office!) AND, most importantly, he did not ask the question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
There are several theories that I have for Mr. Porter’s lack of professionalism that I will not go into in this post, but I believe there are ways to prevent yourself from falling into this negative stereotype. If you were someone’s 13th person and you believed that he or she was going to kill him/herself, what would you do? Well, this is what I want to talk about in this post. How to prepare yourself for those Hannahs who will walk into your office at a moment’s instance whether you are in the middle of testing, schedule changes, paperwork, or you are eating lunch. It is imperative that we are ready to meet the challenge as a professional school counselor!
13 Ways to Avoid the Mr. Porter Stereotype:
1. First of all, it is okay to feel uncomfortable when addressing student suicide. In fact, most experienced school counselors will admit that they are uneasy when it comes to handling these delicate situations. If you feel uncomfortable and uncertain, first just admit it Then ask for and seek professional development in suicide prevention, intervention, and post-vention. One great place to start your training, especially if you are inexperienced, is the Life Trilogy for Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention.
2. Find someone you trust to consult with on a regular basis. I have a list of professionals that I regularly speak to about specific cases and I need to know if I am wrong!
3. Know your district policy for handling suicide. It is important to know what to do if you suspect a student is thinking about killing him/herself. My suggestion is to find that policy, print it out, and keep it close to you. Make sure you ask questions and get clarity about your role in the protocol.
4. Help others understand their role in suicide awareness. This can include teaching students how to recognize the signs of suicide during classroom guidance and informing staff members of signs in staff development.
5. If you believe a student may be suicidal, call his or her parents and DON’T LET THEM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT!!
Two court cases make this very clear…
Eisel v. Montgomery County Board of Education (1991)
In this case, a student was referred to the school counselor for making remarks that she was going to kill herself. Two school counselors talked to the student and the student denied making any suicidal comments. Unfortunately, the counselors did not contact the parents nor did she notify the administration and the student committed suicide later in the day. The Eisel case determined that school counselors have a special duty to protect student from harm.
Rogers v. Christina School District, et. al (2013)
A student spoke to his school counselor about his suicidal feelings and his suicide attempt two days before. The counselor did not contact the student’s grandparents about his attempt and later in the day he hung himself at home. The Rogers case determined that the counselor was negligent in not contacting the family.
6. Join the local suicide coalition and build connections with local mental health clinicians. I am a member of the local coalition and I have learned so much from being involved in this group. Also, I have found resources, training’s, and opportunities to grow as a professional.
7. Keep an updated list of local resources and mental health clinicians to give to students and parents. These resources can also include the National Suicide Hotline and Text Line.
8. Even if you have had training, continue with advanced training to train your students and staff. One such training is Gatekeeper Training which helps staff and students recognize the signs of suicide, ask the important question, and refer to school based mental health professionals. Another great training is Youth Mental Health First Aid which teaches adults, who work with youth, how to look for signs of mental illness.
9. Seek training in suicide screenings like the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale.
10. Be proactive and contact parents of students who present signs of depression and give them contact information of mental health professionals. This is a great step to prevent contagion!!
11. Train students for peer support. One great peer training in suicide prevention and awareness is Sources of Strength.
12. Simply just ask the question if you suspect a student is going to kill him/herself. I know it is scary, but what is more scary is that the student follows through like Hannah.
13. Educate yourself by viewing webinars, reading guidance from experts in suicide awareness, and join professionals communities. I have attached many resources that may be helpful for you as you get started.
Resources from the Experts:
13 Reasons Why Talking Points
13 Reasons Why: Considerations for Educators
Helping Students Manage Negative Thoughts Worksheet
Parents: Talk to Your Kids About 13 Reasons Why
Some Great Blog Posts from Other School Counselors!
Counselor Up – 13 Reasons Why School Counselor Should Be Talking About this Show
The School Counselor Kind – Responding to 13 Reasons Why
There are More Than 13 Reasons Why Your Life Matters
Additional Suicide Resources:
After a Suicide Toolkit for Schools
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Ask for Help Cards
100 Ways to Make It Through the Next Five Minutes
Bullying and Suicide
Center for Suicide Prevention – Tattered Teddies Handbook
Depression and Suicide
Gay and Suicidal
Guidance of Students Returning to School After a Suicide Related Absence
Lifeline Suicide Prevention E-Cards
Memorials After a Suicide
Mental Health First Aid
More Than Sad
My3app – Suicide Prevention App
Not My Kid – Video for parents
Prevent the Attempt – What to say if your organization has an online presence.
Preventing Suicide A Toolkit for High Schools
Question, Persuade, Refer – Gatekeeper training.
School Suicide Prevention Accreditation
Signs of Suicide – Secondary Suicide Prevention Program.
Sources of Strength – School program to prevent suicide.
Substance Use and Suicide Prevention
Suicide Awareness Poster
Suicide Isn’t About Wanting to Die
Suicide Help Card
Suicide Prevention Among LGBT Youth
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Suicide Prevention Guide for Teachers
Suicide Prevention Primer
Suicide Shouldn’t Be a Secret
2013 State Suicide Stats
Suicidal Warning Signs
Talking About Suicide With LGBTQ Populations
Teens Reaction to the Anniversary Date of a Peers Death
Teen Suicide – Facts and Information for Canadian Educators
My past blog posts regarding suicide awareness: