The popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has created a lot of buzz over the last few weeks, forcing the subject of teen suicide into national conversation.
The show, which is produced by Selena Gomez and based on a book by Jay Asher, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl’s suicide through cassette tapes listened to by her classmates. The 13-episode series debuted on March 31 for Netflix subscribers.
Some mental health experts are concerned about the potential risks posed by the sensationalized treatment of youth suicide. The National Association of School Psychologists issued a warning against viewing the series to parents of “vulnerable youth.”
Andrew Arthur, MA, LMFT, an adolescent intensive outpatient therapist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, says despite the issues, the show provides an opportunity for anyone working with teenagers to sit down and have an honest conversation.
“This show brings up a dark topic that needs to be addressed,” says Arthur. “Suicide isn’t going anywhere and popular shows like 13 Reasons Why creates an opportunity for parents and school officials to talk with their kids.”
He also urges parents and professionals to seek information so they feel comfortable approaching the conversation. “Ask open-ended questions and avoid things like ‘how was your day’,” says Arthur. “It’s a careful balancing act to not come across as nagging, but teenagers aren’t usually open in general.”
Schools and parents can use this as an opportunity to promote the positive resources available to people who may feel like they have no one to turn to and nowhere to go. Outpatient programs and free services like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, offer support from trained specialists who have experience in crisis intervention. The Crisis Text Line is a great resource for teenagers, as it provides free crisis support to people who text “HOME” to 741741 from anywhere in the U.S.
Arthur discourages those who may be experiencing hardships from watching the show. And, if parents are concerned about allowing their teenagers to “binge watch” the series, sit down and watch it with them.
“I’m hoping teenagers who watch the show will come away knowing they will always have people who care about them,” says Arthur. “If the first person doesn’t listen, then go to the next until you get what you need.”