Parents should be aware of a popular new series on Netflix that could give kids harmful ideas about suicide, experts say.
The series, 13 Reasons Why, tells the story of a teen girl who commits suicide and leaves behind cassette tapes that explain why she took her life and who was responsible. Based on a best-selling novel, the series was released on March 31 and quickly became a much-discussed, frequently binged hit.
While many people believe the heart-wrenching show brings light to an important mental health issue, others in the mental health community worry that the series could glamorize suicide especially for teens at high risk. It might also promote the harmful idea that “if your voice goes unheard in life, your death can serve as an amplifier,” a Chicago Tribune article notes.
The National Association of School Psychologists recommends against vulnerable youth watching the series, especially those who have any degree of suicidal thoughts.
Kathy Forzley, health officer of the Oakland County Health Division, says parents should be aware of the series and that it has become a hot topic among school-aged youth in the community.
“Youth suicide is an important public health issue,” Forzley says. “It is important for parents to be equipped with the knowledge of what their children are watching and possess the tools to have an informed, caring conversation about this serious topic.”
While parents are the best judge of whether the content is suitable for their teens, they should know that the show includes a graphic depiction of a suicide death and also deals with issues of bullying, substance abuse and rape.
“There are some teenagers who possess strong resiliency skills, maturity and the capability of differentiating between TV and real life who a parent may feel would be OK to watch it. There are some teens that parents may feel do not have that capability,” she says.
Parents should also know that research has shown exposure to another person’s suicide or to graphic accounts of death “can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason to contemplate or attempt suicide,” Forzley points out.
If a parent does allow their teen to watch 13 Reasons Why, Forzley recommends that parents watch the series first or watch it with their child so they can talk about it together. If a parent finds out their teen has already watched it, a “thoughtful conversation with an adult” is important to help them process the issues discussed in the show and talk about other choices the characters could have made.
“Reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available,” Forzley says.
Whether families watch the series or not, open and honest conversations about suicide and mental health are critical.
“The more we talk about these topics, the more we can work to break down barriers and promote help-seeking behaviors, which can help in preventing suicide,” she says.
The Oakland County Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force, part of the county health division, also recommends that parents create a “safe, judgment-free zone” when talking about the series and the issue of suicide. They can also share with their teens the following “13 Reasons WHY NOT” list, which was created by the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities.
- Life isn’t a video game – death is permanent.
- Feelings change – this situation is temporary.
- Things will get better – you are never too broken. You CAN be healed.
- Even if you don’t feel it right now – there are so many people who love you.
- You aren’t alone – we’re in this together.
- Your pet won’t understand – death is painful for those who love you.
- If you’re feeling worthless, remember – your life DOES have purpose.
- FOMO is real – you will miss out on the beauty in life. There is more outside this moment.
- There is ALWAYS somebody willing to help.
- You are more than how you look or what you achieve.
- You are unique – your worth is not determined by people’s opinions of you.
- You won’t get your own Netflix show – death is the finale.
- You have an important story to tell – this world needs your EXACT brand of beautiful.
Find more information on suicide prevention here.