Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” has brought renewed national attention to combating teen suicide. However, mental health professionals, educators and some viewers have criticized the show, saying the show could do more harm than good. As a result, Loudoun County Public Schools released a statement April 26 cautioning parents about letting their children watch the show, especially given the epidemic of teen suicide across the county.
The show, which is based on a novel by the same name, is rated for mature audiences only, and details the story of a 17-year-old girl who creates 13 audiotapes prior to her suicide. The tapes reveal how her relationships with others led to her suicide. The episodes include graphic content involving sexual assaults and the act of suicide.
“There are no messages of help and support included with ’13 Reasons Why,'” LCPS said in a statement. “The decision to allow your children to watch this series is, of course, a personal choice. However, given the abundance of concern from professional organizations and mental health professionals, we wanted to make you aware of its potential effect.”
Critics say the show doesn’t do enough to demonstrate how teenagers can cope with depression and other mental illnesses, or available resources to help them deal with suicidal thoughts.
There are several studies that show portraying a sensationalized and graphic depiction of suicide could inspire similar acts in vulnerable teens.
Still, the show has also received praise by teens and young adults for its realistic portrayal of navigating high school. Experts have also praised “13 Reasons Why” for accurately showing the varied, complex causes that lead to suicide, according to an article shared by LCPS.
The article, published by the National Association of School Psychologists, also offers tips for educators and parents on how to talk to teens about the show.
Experts recommend thoughtful conversation between teens and parents to better help both parties understand the issued depicted. This also helps them realize suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and that help is available.
School board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) shared this sentiment on her public Facebook page. She said that while she’s not seen the show, she’s had several parents reach out to her, concerned that the show glamorizes suicide.
“It’s a very sensitive subject we all need to be aware of,” Turgeon said.
Turgeon also said it’s important to have discussions about mental health, suicide and ways to get help, not just for the recent rise of teen suicide, but also for the rise of suicide among recent high school graduates.
She said these concerns extend beyond just four years of high school. There has also been an increase of recent LCPS alumni who die by suicide within a couple years of graduating, and young twenty-somethings are the most at-risk group, Turgeon said.
“We need to focus on prevention early on because there may not be a risk in high school but there may be a risk later,” Turgeon said. “We need to set a foundation for kids to have after they graduate.”
LCPS’ statement also listed county resources available for youth experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts or other behavioral crises including:
- 24/7 help from Loudoun County Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services at 703-777-0320
- When calling 911 for assistance within Loudoun County, ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer. The Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center at 102 Heritage Way in Leesburg is also open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily with mental health professionals available for anyone in crisis
- Non-emergency appointments can be made at 703-771-5100
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day. For the Veteran/Military Hotline call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.