Dear Parents and Guardians,
You may remember this letter in reference to ‘13 Reasons Why’, a popular, but controversial Netflix series. Dear Parents and Guardians,
You probably already know that this Netflix series is currently very topical and some students are watching it. It is based on a book about Hannah Baker, a high school student who dies by suicide and leaves behind audiotapes about the events that led to her death. In each tape, she essentially blames her death on the actions (or inaction) of a group of peers, and a teacher.
We wanted to make you aware that the graphic scene of Hannah’s death and the premise of the narrative, is contrary to the way psychologists and counsellors believe suicide should be discussed with adolescents.
The series has very mature themes with some violent scenes. If your daughter/son is watching this, we strongly encourage you to review it, to decide whether it is appropriate for her/him, and so you can have thoughtful discussion with your child about it. Here are some suggested talking points for you from the JED Foundation:
People often identify with characters they see on TV or in movies. However, it is important to remember that there are healthy ways to cope with the topics covered in ‘13 Reasons Why’ and acting on suicidal thoughts is not one of them.
Suicide is not a common response to life’s challenges or problems. The vast majority of people who experience bullying, the death of a friend, or any other trauma described in ‘13 Reasons Why’ do not die by suicide. In fact, most reach out, talk to others and seek help or find other productive ways of coping. They go on to lead healthy, normal lives.
Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act. Hannah’s suicide (although fictional) is a cautionary tale, not meant to appear heroic. It should be viewed as a tragedy.
It is important to know that, in spite of the portrayal of a serious treatment failure in ‘13 Reasons Why’, there are many treatment options for life challenges, distress and mental illness. Treatment works.
Suicide affects everyone and everyone can do something to help if she/he sees or hears warning signs that someone is at risk of suicide. Talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is OK. It will not make someone more suicidal or put the thought in his or her mind.
Knowing how to acknowledge and respond to someone who shares their thoughts of emotional distress or suicide with you is important. Do not judge them or their thoughts. Listen. Be caring and kind. Offer to stay with them. Offer to go with them to get help or to contact a counsellor.
How the counsellor in ‘13 Reasons Why’ responds to Hannah’s thoughts of suicide is not appropriate and not typical of most counsellors. Student counsellors are professionals and a trustworthy source for help.
When someone dies, there is no possibility that person can make a movie or talk to people any more. Leaving messages from beyond the grave is a dramatisation produced in Hollywood and is not possible in real life.
We hope these suggestions are helpful. We have an excellent team of counsellors who are available to help with any questions relating to this, or other social, emotional and psychological issues.
There is now a ‘13 Reasons Why Series Two’. This is trending on social media. We wanted you to be aware of this because of the nature of the content and the ways various issues are portrayed. Here are some quotes from reviews:
‘It is so involved in its own angst and pain that you have to endure 11 hours of unremitting hopelessness…’
‘Is the show doing enough to reassure young viewers that there is a world beyond the pain of growing up? Not at all. Its idea of presenting a ‘bigger picture’ is solely showing that others are suffering, not that there can be a positive future after trauma. There is not nearly enough hope, for the characters or the audience.’
‘We should be concerned about the utter bleakness on display. Unrelenting depression seems to shroud the season, briefly lifted only to collapse back down as the show’s thirteenth episode, once again, delivers a deeply disturbing scene of suffering.’
‘In what is easily the most memorable and disturbing scene of the show, a male student is sexually assaulted by another male student … left bleeding and mostly nude in a high school bathroom. While 82 percent of all child rape cases and 90 percent of adult rape victims are women, men experience sexual assault, too—and it could be that ‘13 Reasons Why’ aimed to show case that fact. Instead, the scene registers as unnecessary and senseless (the bully slams the victim’s head into a porcelain sink before the rape, which somehow doesn’t kill him).’
‘The show is very careful to stress that there are resources available at their website should you need help. If only they considered just a tiny glimpse of a brighter future for any of the characters to save the show from its utter hopelessness.’
Common Sense Media reminds us that the recommended age for young people to watch this is sixteen (16). Their advice is that parents watch it with children so discussion and guidance around the potentially upsetting issues can be addressed.
We hope this is helpful and thank you for your cooperation