Dear Sweetwater Union High School District Parents and Guardians,
We would like to make you aware of a new Netflix series that has gained wide attention among teens, while raising serious concerns among mental health professionals and educators. The series, “13 Reasons Why,” is based on a 2007 young adult novel about a 17-year-old girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide and tells the story after her death through audiotapes. Hannah uses the recordings to tell 13 people the part they played in her decision to take her life.
The show’s popularity was immediate, with 3.5 million Twitter mentions in its first week. We want you to be well-informed about the content and potential impact of this show, especially because teens today often watch media by themselves on personal devices.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) strongly recommends that youth who are vulnerable, especially those who have experienced suicidal ideation, not watch the series. However, the series and the attention surrounding it does present an opportunity to have meaningful conversations with your child to reinforce the message that suicide is not a viable solution to one’s problems and that help is available.
There are several reasons to be concerned about the show:
- The series includes a graphic suicide scene that is difficult to watch and may be inappropriate and traumatic for children and teens.
- The main character’s death is glamorized and sensationalized throughout the series.
- The show does not present viable alternatives to suicide or explore the underlying conditions related to suicide, such as mental illness and depression.
- The audiotapes used in the show blame others for the suicide. However, suicide is never the fault of survivors of suicide loss.
Well-established research shows that duration and prominence of suicide publicity, including through social media, can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The series “13 Reasons Why” goes into detail about how the teen died, uses dramatic images, and glamorizes the death, all of which can be especially harmful.
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and the Jed Foundation, a youth suicide prevention group, compiled a list of talking points to help parents discuss the TV series with their children. Go to jedfoundation.org, and click on JED Blog.
Counselors, school psychologists, and other school-based mental health professionals can assist in supportive conversations with students as well as provide resources and expertise in preventing harmful behaviors. Please contact Hilltop Middle School counseling office/school psychologist/admin should you have any questions.