By now you’ve probably heard about or watched 13 Reasons Why, a newly released Netflix series based on a book that was published 10 years ago.
The series revolves around 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who takes her own life and leaves behind audio recordings for 13 people who she says in some way were part of why she killed herself. Each tape recounts painful events in which one or more of the 13 individuals played a role.
Producers for the show say they hope the series can help those who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. However, the series, which many teenagers are binge watching without adult guidance and support, is raising concerns from suicide prevention experts about the potential risks posed by the sensationalized treatment of youth suicide. The series graphically depicts a suicide death and addresses in wrenching detail a number of difficult topics, such a bullying, rape, drunk driving, and slut shaming. The series also highlights the consequences of teenagers witnessing assaults and bullying (i.e., bystanders) and not taking action to address the situation (e.g., not speaking out against the incident, not telling an adult about the incident).
Mental health professionals are concerned about the series and with good reason:
- Suicide is romanticized throughout the series, which may increase risk for vulnerable teens.
- There is no mention of mental health and treatment options, as it references suicide throughout.
- There are no examples of help-seeking by the teens impacted.
- There are several scenes throughout depicting serious trauma, which the teens do not seek help or resources for (i.e., rape, bullying, car accidents, fights, alcoholism, suicide).
- The series does not express what to do in harmful situations in terms of getting help or utilizing healthy coping skills.
- The series is not meant to be an educational film, and it’s message does not comply with the health recommendations for treating mental health, and/or trauma, or preventing suicide.
While it is NOT recommend that teens view this series, it can be appreciated as an opportunity to better understand young people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Children and youth who view this series will need supportive adults to process it. Take this opportunity to both prevent the risk of harm and identify potential issues that may need to be addressed. An important outcome would be to keep the lines of communication open with your teen.
Guidance for Families
- Ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. We don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series, but if they do, watch it with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts.
- If they exhibit any of the warning signs above, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help.
- Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
- Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.
- Get help from a school-employed or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers.
See Preventing Youth Suicide Brief Facts (also available in Spanish) and Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips or Parents and Educators for additional information.
Safe Messaging for Students
- Suicide is never a solution. It is an irreversible choice regarding a temporary problem. There is help. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, talk to a trusted adult, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text “HOME” to 741741.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends about how they feel and let them know you care about them.
- Be an “upstander” and take actions to reduce bullying and increase positive connections among others. Report concerns.
- Never promise to keep secret behaviors that represent a danger toward another person.
- Suicide is preventable. People considering suicide typically say something or do something that is a warning sign. Always take warning signs seriously and know the warning signs.
- Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.”) and indirect (“I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”). Can be verbal, written, or posted online.
- Suicide notes and planning, including online postings.
- Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media.
- Changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings.
- Emotional distress.
- Separate myths and facts.
- MYTH: Talking about suicide will make someone choose death by suicide who has never thought about it before. FACT: There is no evidence to suggest that talking about suicide plants the idea. Talking with your friend about how they feel and letting them know that you care about them is important. This is the first step in getting your friend help.
- MYTH: People who struggle with depression or other mental illness are just weak. FACT: Depression and other mental illnesses are serious health conditions and are treatable.
- MYTH: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it. FACT: People, particularly young people who are thinking about suicide, typically demonstrate warning signs. Always take these warning signs seriously.
- Never leave the person alone; seek out a trusted adult immediately. School-employed mental health professionals like your school psychologist are trusted sources of help.
- Work with other students and the adults in the school if you want to develop a memorial for someone who has died by suicide. Although decorating a student’s locker, creating a memorial social media page, or other similar activities are quick ways to remember the student who has died, they may influence others to imitate or have thoughts of wanting to die as well. It is recommended that schools develop memorial activities that encourage hope and promote positive outcomes for others (e.g., suicide prevention programs).
Read these helpful points from SAVE.org and the JED Foundation to further understand how 13 Reasons Why dramatizes situations and the realities of suicide. See Save a Friend: Tips for Teens to Prevent Suicide for additional information.
Additional Resources: National Association of School Psychologists
If you or someone you know is in crisis Dial 1-888-568-1112 Maine Statewide Crisis Line If you are currently outside of the State of Maine Dial 1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline text HOME to 741741 Crisis Text Line.