"13 Reasons Why:" The Controversial New Netflix Series - News Article

"13 Reasons Why:" The Controversial New Netflix Series

With many teenagers binge-watching without adult guidance and support, our clinical staff at Child Guidance & Family Solutions – as well as many other mental health professionals – are concerned about the potential risks posed by the sensationalized treatment of youth suicide in Netflix’s trending series 13 Reasons Why – the story of a 16 year-old girl’s suicide.

Our Recommendation

13RW should not be watched by children or younger teens, or by youth who are considered vulnerable. The National Association of School Psychologists has advised teens who have suicidal thoughts to avoid the show and that any teenager watching should do so with a parent or caregiver who can make it clear that suicide is not a solution to problems. We know it is hard to stop the viewing and even attempting to do so may raise the attraction of the show. However, there are things we can all do, whatever the role in a child or teen’s life, to provide support to those who have seen the show or are planning to watch it.

What to Expect

The graphic content and sensitive subject matter goes into extreme detail, including difficult topics such as bullying, rape, drunk driving, ‘slut shaming’, and the act of suicide itself. The show also highlights the consequences for teenagers witnessing assaults and bullying (i.e., bystanders) and not taking action to address the situation. Many of these situations can be triggering – causing someone emotional distress by sparking feelings or memories associated with a particular traumatic experience – and may cause some viewers to romanticize the choices made by characters in the show.

13RW accurately identifies that there is no single cause of suicide, and there are likely many different pathways to suicidal thoughts. However, the show does not emphasize one important similarity among many suicide deaths: the presence of a treatable mental illness. Suicide is not the simple consequence of stress or of coping difficulties, but is most typically a combined result of overwhelming stressors, challenging day-to-day living situations, and/or mental illness that has gone undiagnosed or unrecognized, and often untreated. In fact, according to the National School Counselor Association, 9 out of 10 people who die by suicide have a treatable mental health condition at the time of their death. And, suicide is not the fault of someone else contrary to the underlying premise of the show.

While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the show is vital. Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or exaggerated accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide. Conversation provides an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider the consequences of certain choices, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and help is available.

What Can You Do?

Below are ideas for starting a conversation about 13RW with your child or teen from the JED Foundation & SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education).

  • 13 Reasons Why is a fictional story based on a widely known novel and is meant to be a cautionary tale.
  • Suicide is not a common response to life’s challenges or adversity. The majority of people who experience bullying, the death of a friend, etc. in 13RW do not die by suicide. In fact, most reach out, talk to others and seek help or find other productive ways of coping. They go on to lead healthy, normal lives.
  • Hannah's tapes blame others for her suicide. Suicide is never the fault of survivors of suicide loss. There are resources and support groups for suicide loss survivors.
  • It is important to know that, in spite of the portrayal of a serious treatment failure in 13RW, there are many treatment options for life challenges, distress and mental illness. Treatment works.
  • Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act. Hannah's suicide (although fictional) is a cautionary tale, not meant to appear heroic and should be viewed as a tragedy.
  • How the guidance counselor in 13RW responds to Hannah's thoughts of suicide is not appropriate and not typical of most counselors. School counselors are professionals and a trustworthy source for help. If your experience with a school counselor is unhelpful, seek other sources of support such as a crisis line.
  • Suicide affects everyone and everyone can do something to help if they see or hear warning signs that someone is at risk of suicide.
  • Talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is ok. It will not make someone more suicidal or put the idea of suicide in their mind. If you are concerned about someone, ask them about it.

Click here for more talking points.

Click here for guidance for educators.

If you or a friend need help now:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text 4HOPE to 741741