As a psychotherapist and the author of "13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do," I've had many people ask what I think about 13 Reasons Why. So I decided it was time to check out Netflix's latest hit to see what the buzz is about.
Selena Gomez, the executive producer, claims the show is doing just as was hoped—sparking conversation about teen suicide.
And while conversations about suicide can be key to prevention, suicide education needs to be done in a responsible manner. Unfortunately, this show doesn't do that.
The program, which is about the 13 reasons a teenager killed herself, sends unhealthy messages about suicide.
It's important for adults to understand these facts about teenage suicide and 13 Reasons Why:
1. It romanticizes suicide.
When teens consider suicide, they often fantasize about the aftermath. They envision who will attend their funeral or who will regret not having been kinder to them while they were alive.
Unfortunately, 13 Reasons Why fuels that fantasy. The entire series centers on people listening to the audiotapes the deceased character, Hannah Baker, left behind to explain why she killed herself.
2. The show doesn't address mental illness.
Studies estimate that 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a mental illness. Yet the show doesn't talk about mental illness at all. In fact, Hannah is often portrayed as one of only a few healthy individuals in a world filled with cruel, heartless people.
The show isn't sparking conversations about teen mental health or the fact that mental illness is treatable. Viewers may not recognize that thoughts of suicide are a sign of mental illness.
3. It makes suicide look like a good solution.
The show makes suicide look like a good option. In the audiotapes she leaves behind, Hannah says her decision to kill herself was well-planned. She decided suicide was the best way to end her suffering.
4. It sends the message that there aren't any good people in the world.
People considering suicide often believe that the world is a dark place filled with bad people. Sadly, this show reinforces that message. Almost all of Hannah's friends, family, and acquaintances betray her at one time or another.
5. Suicide is portrayed as a good way to get revenge.
13 Reasons Why reinforces the idea that suicide is an act of revenge that will leave people feeling sorry. This may fuel a teen's fantasy that suicide is a good way to get even when they've been wronged.
6. It sends the message that people are helpless.
Hannah endures a series of horrific events, ranging from rape and betrayal to sexual harassment. But the show portrays her as completely helpless. She isn't able to do anything to improve her situation, keep herself safe, or address the trauma she endured.
7. The show depicts adults as incompetent.
Most of the adults are portrayed as clueless. And those who do know what is going on don't care. In fact, when Hannah tells her guidance counselor she was raped, he brushes her off and encourages her to move on.
This is a dangerous message that could prevent teens from seeking help from a trusted adult.
8. Suicide is portrayed as a way to teach other people a 'lesson.'
Hannah wants people to take her pain seriously. She thinks her suicide and the tapes she leaves behind will transform them. This way of thinking may encourage teens to think suicide is the best way to capture other people's attention and prove their actions were hurtful.
9. Other people are said to be responsible for Hannah's death.
Hannah requests that specific people listen to her audiotapes so they'll understand the role they played in her decision to kill herself. She doesn't take responsibility for her decision to end her life. Unfortunately, this may reinforce a victim mentality in teens who blame others for their problems.
10. Netflix has issued warnings about the show.
While the series itself offered a few warnings about the graphic nature of the program, Netflix has added more. Following criticism, Netflix has said it will add more warnings for viewers, especially prior to the first episode of the series. It will also provide more resources for people about mental health and suicide.
11. Teen suicide is contagious.
While suicide can be contagious among all age groups, teens between the ages of 15 and 19 are especially susceptible, according to a study from Columbia University. And the teens don't necessarily even have to know the victim personally to follow suit. A TV show could be enough to encourage teens who are already thinking about suicide to go through with it.
12. Many parents don't know their kids are watching.
Since the series is on Netflix, many teens are watching on their tablets, smartphones, or laptops in the privacy of their bedrooms. So, sadly, many parents aren't aware their children are watching the show.
And many parents aren't talking to kids about the messages they're taking away from the program. And the kids who may need those conversations the most may be the least likely to have adults who will talk to them about the facts on suicide.
13. Some school departments caution against letting kids watch it.
The National Association of School Psychologists issued a statement for parents and educators that cautions against allowing vulnerable youth, especially those who may have thoughts of suicide, from watching the show. Many school systems have sent the letter to parents to warn them of the dangers.
What Adults Should Do
It's important to talk to kids to find out what they know already about the program. If they haven't watched it, they've likely heard of it. Discuss how the show doesn't depict reality.
If you have concerns about a teen's mental health or you suspect a teen may be experiencing thoughts of suicide, talk to a mental health professional immediately.
Read more of my parenting articles on Verywell.