Educators urge caution on new Netflix series about teen suicide

Since its Netflix debut on March 21, the original series “13 Reasons Why” has sparked controversy on a national level.

The show, which is based on a young adult book written by Jay Asher, tells the story of a girl, Hannah, who commits suicide and sends out tapes that are to be listened to by thirteen people who “helped” her in her decision.

“Young adult books, at times, tend to sensationalize circumstances. It’s kind of their intent. That’s the draw,” said principal Nan Ault. “They have taken this book and sensationalized something that’s incredibly serious.”

The show includes graphic and intense scenes, including sexual assault, rape, and the suicide itself. In the book, Hannah commits suicide by overdosing on pills, while in the show, her death is caused by slitting her wrists and bleeding to death in a bathtub. The show is so graphic that therapy dogs were present on set to help the actors cope with the intense scenes.

“[The makers] specifically made choices that would make it more sensational,” counselor Ben Cox said. “They’re not interested in helping anyone deal with suicide. They’re interested in making money. That’s clearly what this is about.”

The show is for mature audiences. In fact, Netflix categorizes the show as being rated TV mature and is in the same Netflix viewing category as shows rated R and NC-17.

“I think they are being reckless and dangerous with a sensitive topic that can really cause great harm to a lot of people,” Cox said.

Despite the high maturity levels, the show’s focus audience is young high school students, and the students at NS are not excluded. In a recent survey sent out to NS students, 77 percent of students have heard of the show, 36 percent have seen it, and 21 percent of those who have seen it would recommend it to other students. With such a large number of students who have heard of the show, NS administration and counselors feel that how to talk and handle such a serious topic needs to be addressed and parents need to be informed.

“I would advise parents to watch it first and then make a decision about whether they watch it with their child or whether they have a discussion about this with them,” Ault said. “Make sure that they are a part of that.”

Cox agrees with Ault that parents should be involved in making sure their children understand the importance of the topic, but also thinks that students are better off avoiding the show altogether.

“Don’t watch it,” Cox said. “I think it’s harmful. I just don’t think there’s any real benefit that would come from it.”

The series shows Hannah seeking help from her school counselor, who does not take her problems seriously or help her in her situation. Because of that, the counselor becomes one of her reasons for committing suicide.

“I don’t want [students] in any way to think that that’s how adults respond to a problem that a child has,” Ault said. “You try to give them resources. You try to let them know that there’s always somebody out there. You don’t handle it this way.”

Some of the resources available for students who need help include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) which is available 24/7 and is also available online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org as well as Teens Helping Teens which is available to call at 310-855-4673 or by texting TEEN to 839863.

There are also local organizations dedicated to helping people in these type of situations, as well as teachers and counselors at NS.

“If [students] watch it, and if they’re struggling and if this causes any sort of suicide ideation, please come and talk to a counselor, come talk to me,” Cox said. “We’ll help them work through those challenges because these things are real and very difficult.”