Why We Need to Talk About 13 Reasons Why
Your student may have viewed and even had some questions about the most recent Netflix series hit, 13 Reasons Why, based on the popular book by Jay Asher. The series follows a group of high school students as they piece together a story left behind for them by their classmate Hannah Baker, who died by suicide.
While this popular series sheds light on important topics, there are some shortcomings in its execution. Without mention of mental illness, which affects one in five adolescents, and coming dangerously close to romanticizing suicide, this show is missing a crucial opportunity to discuss an issue that is affecting so many teenagers. Additionally, there is no example of successful help-seeking with a theme of silence throughout the story. As Hannah’s classmates struggle with the aftermath of her suicide, there are no scenes highlighting her peers reaching out to talk with their parents, teachers, or coaches despite having a difficult time coping. Without showing how to ask for help, or that treatment and counseling are available, the show is only depicting what not to do without giving an example of what to do.
In addition, there is an unfortunate scene in which Hannah visits a counselor at school and discloses that she has been raped and is struggling. The counselor not only doesn’t offer hope, compassion, or resources, but blames her for the rape and lets her leave while she is clearly distressed. Schools need to be aware that teens are getting this message and make sure students know that their counselors are responsive.
Despite some of its faults, 13 Reasons Why does provide insight into the cultural psyche of the 21st century American teen, and will certainly resonate with viewers. It is a good time to remind students of the messages of hope that you have instilled using the SOS Program and stress that suicide is never the solution. Remind students that there is always something they can do if they are concerned about something someone has said or done in person or online: Acknowledge, Care, Tell (ACT):
Please let your students know they will find trusted adults at school to talk to who reinforce the ACT message. Families are also encouraged to contact local and national resources as needed:
For more discussion points about 13 Reasons Why, SAVE, in partnership with the Jed Foundation, drafted talking points (click HERE) to assist parents, teachers, and other gatekeepers in talking to youth about suicide as it relates to the situational drama that unfolds in the series.