Discussing ’13 Reasons Why’ and suicide awareness

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By Mike Wade
Community Relations Specialist

The new Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why, has received quite a bit of publicity since it first premiered on the streaming service back in March. Based on the Jay Asher fictional novel of the same name (first published in 2007), ’13 Reasons’ is the story of a teenage girl who dies by suicide after suffering a series of demoralizing circumstances. Before her death, the girl records a series of cassette tapes detailing the reasons why she chooses to end her life.

While the show has garnered praise from some critics and viewers, it has also raised a number of concerns among mental health professionals.

Stephanie Bryson, manager of the Raft Crisis Hotline (a program of NRVCS), says one of her main concerns with the series is the failure on the part of the show’s creators to offer resources to audience members that are affected by its main themes of suicide and rape.

“The show’s portrayal of these events has a high degree of triggering past traumas,” notes Bryson. “Failing to offer the National Suicide/Sexual Assault hotline numbers at the end of each episode is very irresponsible, in my opinion…I also agree with the criticism that it romanticizes suicide and portrays it as a solution and a means to get revenge.”

Bryson also feels ’13 Reasons’ does a disservice to mental health professionals.

“…it has an underlying tone that teachers, mental health counselors, and adults in general are too far removed from understanding the plight of adolescence to do anything to help,” she adds. “My fear is that this could make some young people even more reluctant to reach out for help.”

Despite her concerns, Bryson admits the show’s controversy has sparked a renewed national dialogue about youth suicide and prevention.

“It depicts some very real and relatable emotions that adolescents typically go through,” Bryson explains. “I think it serves as a good reminder to parents about how incredibly tough those years can be.”

“The show also examines the struggle and pain that survivors of a death by suicide experience – mainly the parents of the main character – which is something we don’t see that often in television shows or films,” adds Bryson. “So, I do appreciate the show bringing that aspect to light.”

If they do choose to watch the show, Bryson says parents and families should make a plan to view it together and have open discussions about the content of the program and the issues that arise in each episode. She also strongly warns against “binge watching” the show – a popular practice for many subscribers of streaming services like Netflix.

“I think anyone in a vulnerable emotional state – adult or teen – is at risk of being triggered, especially if they find it hard to separate the entertainment value from reality,” Bryson concludes.

If you are struggling or need someone to talk to, call the Raft Crisis Hotline at 540.961.8400. That number is available 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Additional Resources
Tips for parents for talking with their children about ’13 Reasons Why’ and suicide (PDF from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
’13 Reasons Why’: Frequently Asked Questions (features answers and tips from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center)