Tuesday, May 30, 2017

13 Reasons Why…. We Need to Stop Siloing Youth Experiences.

There has been an understandable buzz about the hit Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, and a lot of great articles about how to identify and respond to young people dealing with depression or experiencing sexual violence. While these resources are both important and helpful, I am struck by the disconnect between how the show talks about experiencing violence and the way professionals have responded. Specifically, 13 Reasons Why demonstrates how interconnected experiencing violence is, yet articles written in response tend to focus on an isolated issue such as suicide or sexual violence. As public health professionals we often tend to get laser-focused on a specific issue that a young person may face, identifying prevention strategies specifically for suicide, or sexual violence, or bullying. But what if, for the young people who are facing these difficult issues, separating them out does more harm than good? Youth do not exist in a vacuum and neither should our programs or strategies.

Many young people are reporting how “real” this show feels. The type of “real” that many young people face when navigating adolescence; dealing with social complexities such as bullying, suicide, sexual harassment and rape, exploring peer and intimate relationships, and experiencing complicated interactions with the adults in their lives, all while trying to discover “who they are” and “where they are going”.

The lives of young people are complex by nature which makes me wonder if it would better serve our programs to take a holistic approach and begin paying closer attention to the interconnectedness of the issues youth are experiencing. As public health practitioners we must get “real” about the impact that siloing these issues may have on the broader long-term outcomes of youth.

One way is to focus less on the specific violence outcome (i.e. suicide, bullying, sexual violence) and more on preventing negative experiences from happening by understanding what is shared across those violence experiences. An excellent tool that explains the science behind the connections between multiple forms of violence is the CDC’s Connecting the Dots document. A focus on the links between multiple forms of violence rather than a specific form of violence will shift our prevention strategies toward more integrated and collaborative approaches and away from siloed and individualized approaches.

Research shows that connections to a caring adult positively influences numerous health outcomes. Using a data-driven approach, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has developed campaigns on how to be a trusted adult and offers a free Askable Adult training to support parents and families having these important conversations with their young people. For more information on trainings offered contact Lorin Scott-Okerblom by email at

Research also shows the importance of positive school climate and the impact it can have on young people, as seen in many of the themes from 13 Reasons Why. CDPHE has developed an excellent resource, The Positive School Climate Toolkit , to highlight three approaches to address school climate, including Shared Risk and Protective Factors, Positive Youth Development, and Data-Informed Processes.

These are just a few examples of ways to begin thinking about our work in a more collaborative and connected way. Let’s commit to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. We owe it to our young people.

For more information on prevention efforts contact Tomei Kuehl:

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