Special Report: Too Real to Watch?

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — There’s no way to isolate your teen from a series they can pull out of their pocket. While the series “13 Reasons Why” is fictional, the situations and images are real — some say too real to watch.

“You don’t need to see the actual depiction of a suicide to know how horrible that is,” Eric Peterson told 10 On Your Side.

Peterson wants to shine a light through the darkness of his own personal loss. His 15-year-old daughter Sarah took her own life three years ago.

“What would I tell teens? You know, it’s… death is permanent.”

In “13 Reasons Why,” suicide is Hannah’s solution. That is a problem for Peterson and many mental health professionals, including Eastern Virginia Medical School Associate Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Serina Neumann.

“Because it does, to some degree, dramatize it a bit and it is very graphic, and we know from research that’s a risk factor,” Dr. Neumann said.

Dr. Neumann advises anyone with depression or thoughts of suicide should not watch, but she says others could benefit from it. The show depicts real and difficult issues teens face. Dr. Neumann prescribes parents to view it first, then sit down with their teens and watch together.

“You may even pause the series and start talking about things right at the moment, because I find that’s the most effective way to process the information they are presenting in that series,” she said.

Another recommendation: Don’t binge watch and don’t be afraid to skip parts. The suicide and rape scenes may be too real for your teen.

New research shows the number of children admitted to hospitals for suicidal thought or actions doubled in the last decade. Dr. Neumann noticed the trend in her own practice.

“They’re thinking about it earlier on. Some of my patients say they started thinking about suicide at around the age of five or six.”

In Virginia, one person dies by suicide every eight hours and it’s the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 in the Commonwealth. Experts believe most of them could be saved.

“We need to teach our children how to healthfully respond to these stressors that they are encountering,” Dr. Neumann said.

Those lessons are not in the Netflix script.

“There’s a lot of missed opportunity here with this particular series to give some good messaging and to really encourage that conversation,” Peterson said.

That’s why he encourage parents to grab hold of this opportunity  and never let go.

“I don’t want any other family to have to go through this.”

The popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has a lot of people talking about suicide. Some are afraid it could lead to more suicides among teens and wish the producers had included in the script 13 reasons why not.

One Currituck, North Carolina, family shared with 10 On Your Side one reason they are certain most, including their son, never considered before killing himself. They hope their reason will resonate and save other lives.

“In my worst nightmare, I couldn’t imagine him doing what he did,” Denny Chalk said.

When Denny Chalk’s son, 18-year-old Tighe Chalk, took his life last year, he also took a part of everyone who loved him. Most of all, his little sister.

“This isn’t supposed to happen to me. It’s supposed to be something like, you hear about happening to someone else — not me,” Juli Chalk told WAVY.com.

Juli is the one who found him.

“The next days and hours were very rough. I didn’t get much sleep and I couldn’t really eat. I watched movies to distract me and I’ve been staying at my grandma’s house ever since.”

Denny and Nikki are certain their son would never have pulled that trigger if he knew how that bullet would shatter Juli. They were like two peas in pod, just 17 months apart. Tighe taught her how to succeed in school, how to crowd surf at a concert — how to live.

For months, she blamed herself.

“When I think back. there were so many signs… Sleeping a lot, not getting enough sleep, drug use.”

The family is full of regret and second guesses. Denny recalled, “He had gotten in a little trouble a couple different times and you would get, ‘Maybe the world would be better off without me.'”

They did get help for Tighe. He went to counseling a full year before his death. He seemed fine. But he wasn’t.

Nikki said,  “You get busy with life and you think they’re OK ’cause they don’t say anything.”

Nikki wishes she’d asked more questions.

“He did struggle with his sexuality,” she told 10 On Your Side.

Nikki said that Tighe’s grandfather, whom he was very close with, had just died.

“We think those are both major factors but was there something else?” Denny wonders.

Sadly, they will never know the answer, but they have learned the truth. Tighe had an illness and they’re not ashamed to shout it to the world.

“We don’t put cancer patients and their issues in a closet. We don’t put heart disease and those issues in a closet,” Danny said. “We shouldn’t put suicide, ’cause it is an illness.”

They have vowed to spend the rest of their lives helping others try to prevent such tragedy. Juli recently shared her story at a walk she organized in Tighe’s memory.

“My main goal was to have people talk and get rid of the stigma,” she said.

More than 400 people came out for it. She hopes they got the message: Know the signs, and know the reality — taking your life doesn’t solve your problems, it creates them for the people you leave behind.


Teen Suicide rates in Virginia

Teen suicide warning signs

Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation (local non-profit)

Hampton Roads Morning of Hope Walk

May is Mental Health Month

Study on increase in children hospitalized for suicidal thoughts/behaviors