Conversations About "13 Reasons Why" and Suicide
Information & Guidance For Parents
The Netflix series is rated TV-MA (may not be suitable for those under 17) and contains viewer discretion (trigger) warnings because of graphic content depicting adolescent bullying/cyber-bullying, sexting, voyeurism, sexual shaming, sexual harassment, sexual assault/rape, drunk driving, self-harm (cutting), death by suicide, blood.
Despite the graphic content and the show’s rating, many middle school (grade 7&8) and young teenagers are viewing the series. If your children fall within this age group, know that your children have likely heard of and possibly already watched this popular series, based on a book about the same topic. So, it is important that parents be prepared to talk about the series in order to answer questions or concerns that the series raises.
Mental health and suicide prevention experts agree that the show is not likely to cause emotional harm or problems for most teens/young adults who experience stable mental health and have no direct personal experiences with suicide/suicidal thoughts or losses and no personal experiences with the traumas depicted in the show. There is agreement that because of the dark content, this is a show that if watched by youth, should be talked about with adults to process thoughts and feelings.
Leading suicide prevention organizations and mental health organizations agree that 13 Reasons Why does pose risks for youth/young adults who struggle or have struggled with mental health problems, suicidal thinking or losses or traumas similar to what is portrayed in the series. If your child is currently struggling or has had any level of suicidal thoughts or attempts, suicide prevention experts recommend choosing not to watch the show. Any youth who has experienced a sexual assault or other traumas highlighted in the show is encouraged to avoid the show as well. If vulnerable youth do watch the series, it is very important that caring adults in their lives check-in with them to process thoughts and feelings and provide support. Reasons for these recommendations are summarized here:
- Research has shown that when suicide is detailed, glamourized and justified in the media, a phenomenon of identification and triggering often occurs among individuals who see themselves and their own feelings and experiences in the content and individuals / characters involved. In the case of the Netflix series, youth who have lived through the trauma, pain or the suicide attempt or death of someone close to them may be most vulnerable to identification and triggering. Visual, graphic imagery is particularly triggering.
- This means that for vulnerable youth in particular, viewing 13 Reasons Why may bring back or reinforce memories, sensations, feelings and thoughts related to the traumas experienced - essentially re-living the traumas and the accompanying pain. For some, there is the risk of getting “mentally lured back” or “stuck” in the pain, anger, revenge fantasies and suicidal thoughts.
- Identification and triggering can lead to a phenomenon known as a contagion ( i.e, copy cat behaviour) in populations. Vulnerable youth and young adults are particularly susceptible.
Resources To Support Parent Conversations About "13 Reasons Why" & Suicide
Additional Guidance & Talking Tips
Ask your children if they’ve heard about the Netflix series or seen it. Steady yourself to listen intently. Ask open ended questions without judgment. What do you think of the show? Resist the urge to offer quick fixes or solutions to their potentially tough questions and reactions. Validate and support their feelings. Do not judge or argue with them about their views. Follow their cues. Listen and Learn. Stay visibly calm and engaged.
If any of your children talk about any level of personal distress, calmly ask them about changes in mental health or suicidal thoughts. Remember, helpful, important conversations can start with just asking, are you okay?
Know that raising the question about thoughts of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to express caring concern and offer support.
If your teen has not seen the show but wants to or plans to because of what they have heard, offer to watch the show together. If your teen does not want to watch the show with you, watch the show separately but open the door to check-in.
Also, encourage watching one episode at a time. Binge watching of heavy, dark content is not a good idea for most of us. Encourage self-care in between episodes and remember to remind your teen that he or she can always stop watching the show, fast forward or skip graphic scenes – pay attention to the content warnings and use them to prepare and safety plan with your youth/teen. Remind youth about what/who helps them cope and that you are available to help if needed or they want to talk.
If you fear any of your children may be at risk, get professional help right away. Ask your children if they think any of their friends or classmates are struggling after watching the show. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate.
Local Support Options
- Thunder Bay 24 Hour Crisis Response Phone Service: (807) 346-8282
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
- Parents and youth who would like support regarding conversations about suicide or how to navigate the series 13 Reasons Why can contact their child’s senior elementary school or high school and ask to speak to counselling services or contact the board office at (807) 625-1535.
- BeSafe App Safety planning App for youth/teens – available by free download on iphones and androids