Wake schools recommends students steer clear of Netflix show '13 Reasons Why'
Posted April 28
Wake County public schools this week joined other systems across the country, recommending that students not watch the new Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why," which depicts a teen's graphic suicide.
I wrote about the very popular series last week, sharing tips for parents whose kids may be interested in watching the show or have already seen it. Based on the 2007 young adult novel by Jay Asher of the same name, the series tells the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who, before killing herself, sends cassette tapes to classmates detailing the 13 reasons behind her decision.
Mental health experts, including several I spoke with, have raised concerns about the way the series depicts suicide. Some have said it could do "more harm than good" in efforts to prevent teen suicides.
Research shows that teens who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and mental illness are more likely to attempt suicide when a family member or classmate has died by suicide – or even the lead character of a popular TV series.
Seeing somebody, especially a person who appears to have everything together, die by suicide can spur other teens, with already low self esteem and mental health issues, to make the same decision for themselves, Ann Oshel, senior vice president of community relations at Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, which serves Wake, Durham, Cumberland and Johnston counties, told me last week.
"We have heightened concerns about copycat suicide, especially if it’s somebody really popular in school – a cheerleader, athlete, student body president," Oshel said in my article last week.
Since writing that story, I've heard from many parents, who told me that their middle school or high school student has watched the series without their knowledge. One middle school student had seen the entire series three times since it was released in late March. Many simply had access to their family's Netflix account and were watching it from their phones or tablets in their bedrooms or when their parents weren't home.
In its message to parents, Wake schools notes that the series is rated TV-MA for mature audiences only, which means it is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.
"This miniseries attempts to address many topics that can lead to important conversations with students, such as bullying, cyber-bullying, assault, rape, and suicide. However, aspects of the miniseries go against the recommendations of mental health professionals and suicide prevention models," wrote Bren Elliott, assistant superintendent for student support services. "We want to bring this to your attention because we have found many of our students have already watched some of the series, have heard about it, or are asking questions about it."
"We do not recommend that your student watch the series," Elliott writes. "However, if your student is going to or already has watched the series, we encourage you to watch it together and discuss your reactions to the issues raised in the series."
The alert, found on the system's website, shares more resources and tips for parents, along with information about Wake's middle school and high school suicide prevention program.
Other schools also are alerting parents to concerns about the show.
"In the upstate New York community of Grand Island, school administrators warned that the series 'sensationalizes suicide,'" according to an Associated Press story. "Indiana's largest school district warned in an email that the series 'does not accurately model what we would want or hope individuals do if they are struggling or in crisis.'"
Despite concerns, the show is popular. According to the AP story, the show has 340,000 Twitter followers and 2.4 million likes on Facebook. Actress and singer Selena Gomez, who produced the series and has struggled with mental illness, said she was ready for backlash.
"It's going to come no matter what. It's not an easy subject to talk about," she said in the AP story. "But I'm very fortunate with how it's doing."
If you or somebody you know needs help, please reach out.
Call or text the Raleigh-based HopeLine Crisis Line, which helps people across the country, at 919-231-4525 or 877-235-4525. HopeLine's crisis line is open 24 hours a day from Wednesday through Sunday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday and Tuesday. The text line is available from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., weekdays.
You also can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433. Both are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A Change.org petition has been started to include suicide prevention resources with each episode.