With Netflix being one of the most common avenues for entertainment, 13 Reasons Why
is quickly becoming a popular show among preteens and teens right now. The series, 13 Reasons Why,
is an adaptation of Jay Asher’s popular novel. It depicts a young girl who struggles with bullying and sexual assault and records a series of cassette tapes for the people “involved” to explain her struggle before dying by suicide at the end of the series. While the show aims to promote suicide awareness and prevention, it leaves a confusing mess for viewers. The series may confuse teens on how to best handle difficult emotions and situations such as sexual assault, bullying, and suicide. Research suggests that suicide awareness is best created through discussion of suicide followed by resources, ways to help someone, and ways to get help for yourself. 13 Reason’s Why
is causing concern in the mental health field because instead of raising suicide awareness, it may be adding to the issue.
The series does bring up the topic of suicide and possible factors that can increase a person’s risk of suicide, such as bullying or sexual assault, but it fails to display proper prevention skills. Instead, the series is centered on tapes which are sent to all the people Hannah believed contributed to her choice for suicide. The tapes and the idea that others are responsible for someone else’s choice to kill themselves is false. Survivors of suicide (those left behind after a suicide) are never responsible for a person’s decision to kill themselves. The series also depicts each person reliving Hannah’s tragedy through the tapes she left behind which appears to be a form of revenge from Hannah. It is important to be clear that suicide is not a way to seek revenge, you cannot watch people suffer because of your death after you die. Suicide is very final and you will never know how someone reacts to your death– often children and teens do not realize this nor do they think about how final death really is.
In addition to displaying suicide as a form of revenge, the series also dangerously memorializes and glamorizes Hannah’s suicide in a way that many prevention programs suggest against. Rather than displaying ways to seek support, the series encourages the notion that the only way to really feel cared for by others, when you’re being bullied or dealing with difficult emotions, is to kill yourself. From multiple scenes of Hannah’s empty desk, her flower and note covered locker, to flashbacks of Hannah while each person listens to the tapes; the series shows a student who is missed and memorialized. It sends the message that people really do care, but only once she is dead. In addition, the series falsely portrays what happens in schools after a suicide. Schools are encouraged and taught through suicide prevention and postvention programs, such as Screening for Mental Health’s Signs of Suicide (SOS) program, to not leave empty desks, not allow decorated lockers, and not hold memorials at the school as to not memorialize or glamorize the student’s death in any way. The idea is to make it clear that suicide is not a solution to any problem.
The only scene that encourages the idea of seeking help for thoughts of suicide or reporting sexual assault is when Hannah meets with her school counselor. This is quickly followed by the portrayal of victim blaming and lack of empathy which sends the message that even counselors cannot and will not help; which is untrue. This message does not encourage teens to seek help, despite the fact that school counselors and mental health therapists are trained to respond to suicide, bullying, and sexual assault and that research suggests encouraging this type of relationship and communication can help save a life. School counselors and mental health therapists want to help support teens experiencing thoughts of suicide and other mental health issues.
Lastly, the series’ final episode graphically depicts Hannah’s suicide and method. Research through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention supports that graphic displays of suicide are dangerous, triggering, and increase the rates of suicide by that method. Rather than showing that help is possible and encouraging the idea that things can get better, the series sends the message that suicide is the only option.
If your teen has already watched 13 Reasons Why, it’s important to sit down and discuss some of the concepts and themes that take place in the show. Remember, talking about suicide in safe and effective ways does not cause or increase thoughts of suicide. In fact, effective discussion of suicide can increase awareness, reduce shame about thoughts of suicide, and make it more likely for your teen to seek support. In addition to the above information, here are some important talking tips and information to help:
- Discuss Hannah’s life and the things she experienced such as bullying, sexual assault, and thoughts of suicide. Bullying and sexual assault are serious factors that can lead to depression, thoughts of suicide, or death by suicide. Open up a dialogue about these topics and what emotions they bring up for your teen.
- Check in with your teen about whether they feel triggered by the series. Ask them what they’re feeling, how they’re managing it, and offer to be supportive for them. Talk with them about seeking additional support through a licensed therapist if they need or want someone to talk to.
- Talk about the scene that depicts Hannah’s sexual assault and identify why consent is so important. Help your teen identify all the ways Hannah was NOT consenting to sex. It’s important to relay the message that sexual behavior is only okay when both parties are consenting.
- The series shows a lot of risky behavior, including drugs and alcohol. Have a discussion with your teen about substance abuse and its effect on mental health. Substance abuse is a main contributor to depression and anxiety and is often used as coping skills. Talk to your teen about how to seek support for themselves or a friend; come up with a plan for how they can stay safe in situations when drugs and alcohol are present.
- Openly talk about bullying and identify what constitutes as bullying. Discuss ways to help people who are being bullied such as going to a school counselor or administrator, talking to parents, and offering support to the bullied individual.
- Talk about feelings that may occur as a result of bullying and ways to manage the feelings. Discuss seeking support from family and school officials, healthy coping skills, and other possible options the teen can come up with. Use this opportunity to ask your teen if he or she has ever been a bully or been bullied by anyone else.
- Talk about suicide. Ask your teen about the message he or she got from the series about suicide based on Hannah’s behavior and decision. Listen to their perspective and then offer insight when necessary. Be clear that suicide is not the best option and that death is final.
- Talk to your teen about his or her own experiences with suicide. Create an environment where your teen can openly talk about his or her own thoughts associated with suicide. If your teen reports thoughts of suicide, consider seeking treatment with a licensed therapist.
- Discuss warning signs of suicide including but not limited to feelings of overwhelming sadness or anxiety, changes in behavior, withdrawal from any type of social group (friends, peers, and family), increased isolation, reduced interest in previously enjoyed activities, fatigue or difficulty sleeping, making arrangements for death, talking/writing about suicide, using statements such as I just can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to exist anymore, everyone would be better off without me, etc.
- Openly discuss depression and help your teen identify the warning signs that Hannah displayed throughout the series.
- Set up a plan with your teen on what to do if he/she or a friend experiences thoughts of suicide. Talk about Screening for Mental Health’s ACT model: Acknowledge, Care, and Tell for how to manage and prevent suicide
- Acknowledge the situation – acknowledge that you are seeing warning signs of suicide and that it needs to be taken seriously.
- Care for the person – Let the person know you care and want to support them.
- Tell an adult – Tell a trusted adult that you or a friend are thinking of suicide. Some examples of trusted adults include but are not limited to: school counselors, teachers, school administrators, and parents. *let your child or teen know they can come to you with these feelings and thoughts if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide
- Communicate all the ways your teen or others can an reach out for help:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)
- Text “START” to the Crisis Text Line (741741)
- Talk to an adult (parent, teacher, school counselor, school administrator)
- If you are concerned that your teen may be at risk, consider using the following link for a Brief Screen for Adolescent Depression: http://screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/SUMMIT
- Discuss with your teen how to contact the Safe Schools Hotline (Anonymous/Confidential)
- Report drugs, weapons, bullying, threats, or other safety issues.
- Toll-Free 1-877-SAY-STOP 24 hours a day/7 days a week
- Co-Sponsored by the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Reports can also be made by email to email@example.com
- Fulton County Schools has an App where students can report anonymously if they are concerned about someone or themselves
- Individuals can quickly and anonymously report situations and issues (pictures can be included) that may have occurred within schools using Quick Tip –a function available through the District’s Mobile App.
- First, install the district’s app on your mobile device by visiting your app store and entering “Fulton County Schools” in the search window.
- Select the “Quick Tip” icon on the app. You will see a form to choose your school and enter your message or “tip.” Click “submit.”
- Safety and Security will receive the message immediately and begin working with schools and departments to verify and resolve reported issues.
- Contact information is optional.
- Reports can also be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Most importantly, use this as an opportunity to instill hope in your teen. Be sure to communicate that all emotions are fleeting and things can and will get better, even when it doesn’t seem possible. Remind them that emotions change but suicide is permanent.
If you are concerned about your student or believe your student needs immediate help, please reach out to 1-800-715-4225, Georgia Crisis & Access Line, and/or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number: 1-800-273-8255.