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Reasons why ’13 Reasons Why’ demands discussion

By now, if you live or work with young people, you’ve probably heard about “13 Reasons Why,” Netflix’s dramatic series about a teenager’s suicide. Based on a Young Adult book of the same title, the series – now a hot topic at schools in the U.S. and other countries – needs discussing.

Netflix logoOn one hand, it exposes issues today’s high school students often face (among them, depression, bullying, sexual assault and suicide); on the other – if viewed uncritically – it could expose vulnerable young people to way too much. It’s about what happens after a suicide and – as Headspace, Australia’s mental healthcare hotline, pointed out – it irresponsibly suggests that suicide can somehow right wrongs or cause resolution for the person who has died, and younger or more impressionable people may not fully comprehend the finality of death. However, some young people have said the story gives them a better understanding of how much suffering suicide can create for friends and relatives – something they hadn’t thought about.

Fortunately, suicide prevention experts have weighed into the discussion and are offering advice and talking points. Here are advice for young viewers and parents and talking points for educators and clinicians developed by the New York-based Jed Foundation and Suicide Awareness Voices of America (SAVE). As for Netflix, Jed – which is very critical of the series – reports that the entertainment company “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.”

It’s my hope that parents and caregivers will ask their kids if they’re watching the series and, if they are, they’re watching it with friends and, ideally, an adult – not alone. Then talk about an episode while it’s fresh in their minds. Perspective is good.

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