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13 Reasons Why craze

May 24, 2017 

Written by Karen Warden and the counseling team at MCSD

Many teenagers are binge watching the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why about a high school girl who commits suicide. She leaves behind cassette recordings for 13 people that she indicates were collectively responsible for her decision. The tapes describe in detail and sometimes with graphic visuals, events including bullying, rape, and drunk driving. It also depicted the result of others who serve as bystanders who do not do anything to assist the victim. While the premise of this series was to provide a vehicle to initiate important dialogs about complicated teen issues, suicide prevention professionals are concerned about the reaction of high-risk youngsters. They may romanticize the attention and think about getting revenge against others for causing them pain. If young teens do opt to watch the program, it would be important to watch it together or at least have meaningful discussions to help them process the difficult topic. An emphasis needs to be placed on the message that SUICIDE IS NOT A SOLUTION! It is an irreversible choice regarding a temporary problem. Suicide is not a response to stress but usually a combination of overwhelming stress AND a mental health issue that can be treated. A key flaw in the story was the depiction of the adults not recognizing or addressing her desperation appropriately. After the series the producers created an informative segment called Beyond the Reasons that may be helpful in having the discussions.

For families with teens, it would be important to find out if your child has watched the series and if they really insist on seeing it, make efforts to view it together. It is okay to probe if they have ever had thoughts of suicide or if they are being hurt by anyone. Talking about suicide does not increase the risk but instead can lead to chances to get help. Reach out to school or community mental health professionals if you become concerned with the discussion. Provide your child an audience to share worries they may have about friends as well.

While students who may be contemplating suicide most likely will not seek help, they often will present warning signs that need to be recognized by those around them. Some typical ones may be:

• Suicide threats made either directly or implied “I wish I wasn’t here anymore”. Often they are posted online or may be verbalized to peers.
• Giving away important belongings
• Preoccupied with death
• Changes in behavior, hygiene, thoughts and/feelings
• Emotional distress

There are many resources on line to get more information such as Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators, along with hotlines including 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “START” to 741741

Adapted from National Association of School Psychologists. (2017) 13 Reasons Why Netflix series: Considerations for Educators. Bethesda MD.