With raw depictions of a teenage suicide and its aftermath, a new Netflix series prompted a high school counseling department to issue a precautionary letter to parents.
The department at Shawnee Mission South High School sent the letter Thursday, cautioning that “13 Reasons Why,” which debuted this year on Netflix, may romanticize suicide. The release states the show is popular within the school community.
The series may not encourage young viewers to seek help from family or counselors when suicidal, the department wrote, citing experts.
“The show does not address mental illness or present viable alternatives to suicide,” according to Dan Reidenberg, the executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. His quote appears in the school’s release.
“13 Reasons Why” is based on a book of the same name. In the show, a teen girl arranges to leave behind 13 cassette recordings with 13 people before committing suicide. Each of the tapes details a reason she took her life, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which wrote the show caused an increase in calls to suicide helplines in Australia.
Rather than being a morbid sign, those increased calls may be an indication the show is accomplishing one of its goals to increase dialogue around the subject of suicide.
One of the show’s writers, Nic Sheff, wrote an op-ed in Vanity Fair in part to defend a vivid suicide scene appearing in the show. He said avoiding the scene would have been irresponsible.
“In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide,” Sheff wrote. “To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all — it’s a screaming, agonizing horror.”
Sheff, who wrote he once attempted suicide himself, argued “13 Reasons Why” encourages conversation. “Facing these issues head-on — talking about them, being open about them — will always be our best defense against losing another life.
“Silence really does equal death,” he wrote.
The Shawnee Mission South Counseling Department offered tips to parents of children who may be viewing the show, including:
▪ Check it out yourself, do some reading, watch an episode to be aware of the issues in the show.
▪ If your teenager is watching it, take the time to have conversations about the content, possibly watching together.
“Young people lack the perspective of time. ... For kids, their problems can seem endless at this stage,” the counseling department wrote. “If we get them through the crisis, they are very unlikely to attempt suicide.”