UW News

May 11, 2017

Suicide prevention messages are top priority for UW’s Forefront

UW News

University of Washington advocates for suicide prevention were busy pushing for legislation in Olympia, working on programs with more than a dozen local high schools and organizing the fourth annual Husky Help & Hope walk when an online TV show about suicide suddenly captivated a teenage audience.

To the staff of UW-based Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention and the student volunteers with Huskies for Suicide Prevention and Awareness (HSPA), the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” portrays suicide in exactly the wrong light — making it all the more important, they say, to broadcast the right message far and wide.

That message: That suicide is a public health issue, one that people need to talk and educate themselves about in order to provide help to those who need it, and to remove a variety of myths and misconceptions.

“If there’s one good thing to come from the show, it’s that discussions are happening,” said Shira Rosen, Forefront’s director of school & higher education programs. “The challenge for us is, are full, positive discussions happening, and who’s having them? That’s where we’re involving ourselves.”

The Husky Help & Hope Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk begins at 10:30 a.m. May 20 at the UW Sylvan Grove Theater and Columns. Registration is available here.



To that end, Forefront published a statement on its website, which includes strategies for helping someone who is contemplating suicide and an analysis of how the Netflix series addressed various issues. For example, the show featured several ways in which the main character left clues that she would take her own life — but the other characters ignored or didn’t recognize the signs.

The show, an adaptation of a young adult novel, has sparked a flurry of criticism from schools and mental health professionals nationwide. Earlier this month, Netflix issued a statement acknowledging the concern, noting it would post an additional warning at the beginning of the series’ first episode, and directing viewers to a website with crisis line numbers. The company subsequently announced that the show will return for a second season.

The greater attention to the issue comes as Forefront in Schools, the organization’s high school outreach program, prepares to wrap up its second year. In light of “13 Reasons Why,” many of the partner schools have asked for additional communication strategies and have distributed messages to parents, Rosen said.

“The Forefront in Schools program is helping schools to move from a crisis response to prevent student suicides further upstream to a greater awareness of mental health and social and emotional learning,” said Forefront co-founder and faculty director Jennifer Stuber, a UW associate professor in the School of Social Work.

The 13 schools currently involved in the Forefront program have spent the past two years assembling and training teams of administrators, teachers, parents and students in the organization’s suicide prevention curriculum, LEARN. In that program, each letter represents a strategy: Look for warning signs; empathize and listen; ask about suicide; remove the danger; and next level of care, a reference to helping provide access to counseling and other resources.

Forefront hopes to recruit an additional 15 schools next year.

Meanwhile, organizers of the 2-mile H3 Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk aim to draw 1,000 participants and to raise $10,000 at the May 20 event. Last year’s walk raised $8,000, which HSPA said helps fund campus suicide awareness programs and Forefront Cares packages to people grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide. This year, HSPA’s UW Speak Up Project, a mental health campaign and storytelling platform, added portraits of advocates as another medium through which to raise awareness.

“When you see someone else’s story you can connect to it,” said Kayla Magers, the social media chair for HSPA and a photographer who shot the portraits for UW Speak Up. “By using portraits, viewers can see the person and read their story and understand mental health on a different level. Whether you live with a mental illness or not you can connect to these people and their stories.”


For more information on the H3 Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk, contact HSPA here. For information on suicide prevention outreach and other Forefront efforts, contact Aimee Chou at akc2@uw.edu.

Source: KIRO 7 News