”13 Reasons Why” is based on best-selling author Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult book of the same title. Actress and pop star Selena Gomez co-produced the 13-episode Netflix adaptation. According to her:
“We wanted to make something that can hopefully help people.”
And, Selena did it. They’ve made it hard to stomach the depictions of adolescent suffering and suicide, but they also made it real. The hope is that the series will change us into braver and bolder people—willing to reach out when we need, and willing to offer help to those silently suffering.
The series, which premiered March 31, follows the fictional story of a teenage girl named Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who leaves behind 13 mysterious audio recordings on cassette tapes after killing herself. She addresses each recording to a person who she says played a role in her tragic decision to end her own life.
Some mental health experts say the show could pose health risks for certain young people, such as those who have suicidal thoughts.
Others suggest the show provides a valuable opportunity to discuss suicide risk with young people, as well as teaching them how to identify warning signs of depression or suicidal thoughts among their peers.
Among American young people, those between ages 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first thing that popped into my mind when watching it was, ‘Wow,’ ” said Curtis, who founded the nonprofit Media Impact and Navigation for Teens, a program that raises awareness about online bullying.
Curtis said she was bullied in high school and she could have been a real-life Hannah Baker.
“Had I been watching that as the vulnerable, fragile kid that I was when I was 13 or 14, I might have watched that and thought, ‘Oh, that’s the easy way out. This is going to get me the attention that I need. This is what I have to do,’ “
said Curtis, who wrote an opinion article in Rolling Stone this month about the series.
“It’s not the kind of show that I would say nobody should watch, but I think that every school right now should have an open conversation about it in health class,” she said. “Kids should probably even be separately brought aside, as privately as possible, and spoken to about it. Any kids who are known to have depression, to have spoken to counselors or any previous suicide attempts, I think they should be very, very, very talked to in-depth about it.”
The show has triggered a few and mixed reactions.
According to a statement about the show released this month by the National Association of School Psychologists:
Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide,”
Eric Beeson, a licensed professional counselor who serves as an online faculty member at The Family Institute at Northwestern University said:
“However, it’s unlikely that one show alone could trigger someone to attempt suicide. Research clearly shows that these images have an influence on suicidal behaviors, but how this occurs is far more important to me,” he said.
“It is very possible that provocative experiences have a desensitizing effect that makes suicidal behaviors more likely.”
Andrew Evangelista, mental health and harassment, intimidation and bullying coordinator at Montclair Public Schools said:
“I heard about the series from young people I see in my private practice and from other students,” said Andrew Evangelista, mental health and harassment, intimidation and bullying coordinator at Montclair Public Schools.
Evangelista, who has been a therapist for more than 40 years, said he originally sent a letter about the show to school principals and administrators in the district. They encouraged him to share it with parents.
“I felt it was a great opportunity for staff, counselors and parents to connect with their children by using it as a teachable moment,” Evangelista said. “The girl Hannah, even though she is fictional, teens — if vulnerable and at risk — may identity with her.”
Evangelista said parents can watch for warning signs their child may be vulnerable to identifying with Hannah’s character. They include the child spending more alone time in their room, being secretive with their phone or computer, or having a history of nonsuicidal self-injury such as cutting, he said.
Now, Curtis hopes that “13 Reasons Why” will encourage young people to speak out about personal struggles and not view suicide as “a way out.”
“The biggest advice I could give to somebody is to start talking. Whether it’s talking to a friend, whether it’s talking to a parent, having one person, you only need one person in your life who you can just rely on,” she said. “It’s the kids who don’t have that one person, that’s the group we need to figure out how to hit and how to talk to. Because those are the Hannah Bakers.”
The Netflix series creators along with the author all hope for one thing: we can be better. In 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons the actors and producers communicate their hope that the series will lead people to talk about the topics of sexual assault and suicide. They hope that we will be encouraged to seek help, and to realize that suicide should never be an option.
Even further though, they hope that the series will communicate the seriousness of reaching out to those who are suffering. They hope, that all of us will be better towards one another. Perhaps, each of us only ever know 1/13th of someone’s story, and maybe that’s why it’s so important for us genuinely to care for others. There seemed to have not only been 13 reasons, but 13 different opportunities for things to go differently for Hannah, for people to care—and that’s the hope of the series.
The sad experience of Mercedes Shaday and Makeice Brown says a lot on how much people are sad and dying inside. They definitely had no one to talk to. Read their story here.
It has to get better, the way we treat each other and look out for each other—it has to get better somehow.
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