Please be advised: This post contains information related to suicide
By now you are likely aware of the warnings from leading mental health agencies regarding the current Netflix phenomenon, 13 Reasons Why. Here is a summary of the main issues identified, and how you can help your child should they be watching (or have watched) this series.
13 Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah, a 17-year-old girl who takes her own life after being a victim of bullying, sexual harassment and rape. She has left behind 13 audio tapes which recount events and the people she holds responsible for motivating her to suicide.
The national suicide media initiative, Mindframe, as well as the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, Headspace, have significant concerns and warnings related to the content of 13 Reasons Why. The Department of Education and Training has alerted schools to the risks involved with this series and guidance around the subject matter. Many mental health organisations, including The National Association of School Psychologists have created resources for educators and parents.
Issues that may prove dangerous for vulnerable viewers:
- The show doesn’t present a viable solution to suicide. It doesn’t show that there ARE adults who will listen and can help. It doesn’t show that TREATABLE mental illness is very often present in individuals that take their own life.
- Instead it presents suicide as merely the consequence of coping challenges associated with unbearable life events and stressors.
- The role mental illness plays in suicide is not covered adequately in this series.
- Teens may over identify with Hannah and there is a fear that copycat suicides may occur.
- The extremely graphic suicide scene can be an extra risk factor for youth struggling with mental health conditions. Graphic or sensationalised accounts of suicide is one of many reasons youth consider or attempt suicide.
- After being hooked on a captivating series, a trigger warning at the beginning of an episode may not be enough to dissuade young viewers from watching the concluding episodes of the series.
- Suicide is used as a form of revenge in this series, which is unrealistic in that Hannah would never have been able to see the reactions to her suicide and her tapes.
How to support your teen
- Ask if your child has watched the series. If she has, then let her know that you have been reading about the show and would like to know her thoughts and opinions.
- If your child is yet to watch and has planned to, then watch it together. Engage in considered, thoughtful conversation with your child throughout. Opening up the channels of communications and answering questions can help guide young people who may be trying to make sense of a number of heavy topics presented.
- Withhold judgement when your child shares information about his life with you. It can be tempting to offer your own opinion or judge what he has said or may have done. It’s so important to listen and understand what is being said to you so you can consider the information and then respond appropriately. If you give unsolicited advice, punish or are overly 'judgey', then your child will stop opening up to you.
- Through conversation you can counter some of the issues identified above. For example, you can help your child understand that there are adults who will help her, and that there are always other options than suicide. Brainstorm and explore these options together.
- If you are concerned or feel your child's behaviour or moods have changed then directly ask “have you thought about suicide?”. Although a difficult question to ask, we know from research that asking this question does not increase the risk that someone will attempt suicide. The consequences are too devastating if you do not ask this question due to you feeling a little uncomfortable bringing it up.
- Ask your child who they have in their life to talk to besides you. Your children aren’t always going to want to talk to you so it’s important to get a sense of the other trusted adults in their life.
- If you feel out of your depth, then get some support yourself. If you are concerned about your child’s well-being then speak to your school wellbeing co-ordinator or a psychologist in the community to help guide you.
Jessica is the Principal Psychologist and Director of Hopscotch & Harmony as well as the grateful mother of three children. She is passionate about building resilience in children, supporting the well-being of parents and helping parents guide their children's behaviour through positive, effective parenting approaches.