By Thomas Wiedmann | Correspondent
The teens in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish, Freehold, often spend their youth ministry group meetings socializing and discussing faith and their roles in the Church.
But with the recent popularity of the Jay Asher novel-inspired Netflix drama series, “13 Reasons Why,” which tells the story of a high school sophomore who commits suicide and reveals her reasons in doing so through 13 audio tapes, one of the group’s recent meetings instead focused on a growing, prominent issue: teenage suicide.
In a June 1 article published in The Monitor that focused on the adult perspective of the TV series, parish youth ministry coordinator Jeanne Marinello stressed the importance of giving young people “the right tools” when it comes to addressing suicide. While many adults may find the subject taboo or frightening to talk about with young people, Marinello believes open communication on the issue can be both promising and beneficial.
As such, Marinello used the June 4 youth ministry meeting to tackle “13 Reasons Why Not,” which focused on how young people should not turn to suicide in times of adversity and pain. When she announced to the 23 students circled around her at the beginning of the meeting that the evening’s discussion would delve into the issue of teenage suicide, there was a moment of quietness, the teens fidgeting their fingers and looking down at their feet.
Marinello began the discussion with a personal story, explaining how the suicide of a family friend when she was 15 led her to become involved in youth ministry.
“We don’t always observe what another person, particularly our friends, could be giving us signals for,” she said, explaining the importance for the teens to talk about suicide.
After hearing Marinello’s story, the group began to interact and engage with each other.
In speaking about the topic, the group’s president, Brian Feingold, 18, said, “It’s something people should know about, and it can’t just be ignored because it’s unfortunately becoming a growing issue in modern society.”
Janine Gasarowski, 17, whose step-cousin committed suicide, said, “You never really expect it to happen, and then it happens – and then you have to wonder why.”
Liz Mays, 15, who has seen the Netflix series, said the show sparked discussions at home and school.
“This is my third discussion about it [the show]. A lot of teachers want to bring it up to talk about it with their students and see what their thoughts are,” Mays said. “I think it’s a good thing because then it brings more attention to the topic and trying to prevent it.”
While many adults find the show’s intense content misleading and a negative influence, Gasarowski said the show could possibly be a benefit by shedding light on unknown problems and consequences.
“There definitely were negatives about the show, but I think that there were positives because it showed that there are people who you may not know what they’re going through – how little things in the show like her [the character’s] friends making fun of her can have an effect,” Gasarowski said.
Marinello dedicated a segment of the meeting to brainstorming ideas that young people could use as outlets to handle difficulties in life. Along with the recommendation of seeking advice from “the right people” including parents, a guidance counselor, trusted teacher, youth minister or priest, the students suggested fun, stress-relieving activities, such as baking, exercising, listening to music, drawing, writing, putting one’s own skills and talents into perspective, and seeking faith. In addition, the teens suggested remembering those in their lives who they could have a positive impact on without ever knowing it.
“I feel like people who commit suicide don’t understand that there are others who care about you – are going through the same thing, and that you can talk about it with other people,” Mays said.
Many members of the group said they hoped the meeting would encourage others to raise awareness to teenage suicide and help others.
“I think the big thing is to bring attention to the issue,” Julia Gasarowski said. “People don’t talk about it a lot because it’s a sensitive issue. I think that talking about it finally opens us up.”