13 Reasons Why
Dear Parents and Guardians,
I want to inform you of a trending Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why” which is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher that was published in 2007. The series revolves around 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who kills herself and leaves behind audio recordings for 13 people she says were in some way part of why she killed herself. The series is rated TV-MA, which stands for Mature Audience Only, and includes graphic scenes including sexual assault and suicide.
The show has been highly watched by young people and has received lots of media attention. Because the show takes up issues related to suicide and sexual assault, there have been strong (and strongly mixed) reactions from many viewers along with several professional and advocacy groups. On the one hand, the series has potentially focused attention on and created an avenue for productive discussions around the meaning of friendship, how friends might support each other, the risks of mistreatment and assault and the issue of youth suicide. On the other hand, the depiction and circumstances of the suicide have raised concerns because there are several elements in the story that are inconsistent with safe messaging guidelines around handling portrayals of suicide in media and works of fiction.
In light of the feedback about this show, on the day of its release, the JED foundation partnered with Suicide Awareness Voices of America (SAVE) to develop Talking Points to help clinicians and mental health professionals discuss the show with parents, young people and the media. Netflix was supportive of the distribution of the Talking Points and posted them along with crisis services and a link to additional information about young adult mental health on the official 13RY resource website. Netflix also filmed Beyond The Reasons as a tool to help parents and teens frame the conversation and encourage them to speak up and seek help. The show is rated TV MA and there are trigger warning cards prior to three of the episodes.
Here’s what JED suggests young viewers and parents consider:
- Make a considered and thoughtful decision about whether or not you choose to watch the show. If you have experienced significant depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts or behaviors in the past, this show may be risky for you to watch.
- If you choose to watch the show and are finding yourself distraught, depressed, or having thoughts of suicide or are having trouble sleeping, stop watching it and let a parent, trusted adult or counselor know. You can also text start to 741- 741 for confidential, professional help 24/7.
- For those who choose to watch the show, consider watching it with others and taking breaks between episodes instead of binge-watching. It would be especially good to watch with parents or other trusted adults. Discuss what you are seeing and experiencing along the way.
- This show does provide an opportunity to explore and discuss the meaning of friendship and how we make choices when we or friends are having troubles or are struggling. Viewers should consider how they might have made different choices from those made by characters in the story.
- Whether you choose to watch this show or not, we should all work to be caring of and vigilant about our family members, friends and ourselves. If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or showing signs indicating a possible suicidal crisis get them (or yourself) to help. Support from trusted friends and family and professional mental health care when it is needed, save lives every day.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, text 741741 or call 800-273-TALK (8255)
Encouragingly, there is also some information about the kinds of depictions of suicide that might actually lower risk. These would include depictions which show people who are struggling being helped and supported by friends and professionals, treatment for mental health problems being effective and stories of people overcoming suicidal challenges.
Unfortunately, several of these problems are present in 13 Reasons Why. The suicide is graphically depicted, the young woman who dies is memorialized in unhelpful ways, the suicide seemingly results directly from the misdeeds perpetrated against her by others and Hannah is portrayed as a long suffering victim who, by her death, is taking vengeance on those who have wronged her. Further, there are fewer occasions in which more positive and protective messages are communicated. Friends often mistreat each other and most adults are often oblivious to the suffering and misbehavior around them. The school counselor depicted in the series seriously and tragically bungles Hannah’s attempt to reach out for help rather than providing needed support and follow up.
Given these concerns, we encourage young people to consider whether watching the series is the right choice for them, and we encourage parents and educators to familiarize themselves with JED’s Talking Points and prepare to discuss the series with the young people in their lives who are watching.
Many students may have already watched the entire series. The U-32 Student Services staff is available to students if they need additional support regarding these topics. Please contact your School Counselor if you have any concerns or need any additional support regarding these topics.
Overall, we are sharing this information to encourage you to have a conversation with your student about the show, if they have in fact watched it, as well as a conversation about mental health and suicide prevention. Please see the information below to support you in having these conversations.
U-32 Director of Student Services
Guidance for Families from National Association of School Psychologists:
- Ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. While we don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series, do tell them you want to watch it, with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts.
- If they exhibit any of the warning signs listed below, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help.
- Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
- Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.
- Get help from a school-employed or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers.
Warning Signs from National Association of School Psychologists:
- Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.” “I need life to stop.”) And indirect (“I need it to stop.” “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”). Threats can be verbal or written, and they are often found in online postings.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media.
- Changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings. This can include someone who is typically sad who suddenly becomes extremely happy.
- Emotional distress.
“Screenagers - Tech-Talk Tuesdays” provides conversations starters for families via email every Tuesday which are highly recommended for dinner time. To sign-up to receive the weekly email and see the questions from a recent Tech Talk Tuesday called “‘13 Reasons Why’ and how to talk to our teens about hard issues”:
Local Mental Health Resources:
- Washington County Mental Health Services; Crisis Screeners: (802) 229-0591