Unless you have been travelling in Siberia and completely disconnected from social media for the past month you will have heard about the controversial Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’, based on the teen novel by Jay Asher and released worldwide on March 31st, 2017.

’13 Reasons Why’ is a fictional story about a female character, Hannah Baker. Before she ended her life she recorded a series of cassette tapes explaining her actions. After her death the tapes are passed along to the people she deems partly responsible, revealing a range of experiences including bullying, shaming and sexual assault.

Asher’s novel was written over a decade ago when sexting, cyberbullying and revenge porn issues were beginning to emerge. In 2017 the blurring of public and private information among teenagers who don’t yet have a fully developed frontal lobe (which is responsible for executive functions such as judgment, decision making skills and planning for the future) is escalating and impacting on our young people’s present and future.

When a suicide occurs, it is a traumatic event for a school or community and the impact on young people can be significant. Watching the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’ may elicit a similar range of emotional responses for young people.

“Talking about suicide in a calm and straightforward way, as well as providing information and support, is actually very important in helping young people to manage their feelings and make sense of what has happened” (Headspace, 2017).

So if the teenagers in your life are watching or talking about ’13 Reasons Why’ don’t ignore it, dismiss it or ban it (guarantee if you ban it they will be even more intrigued, watch it at their friend’s house and you will have missed a golden opportunity to talk with your teen!) This series may be one of the best conversation starters you will ever have.

If at all possible watch the series together and try and avoid binge watching. The themes of peer pressure, bullying, body image, consent, victim blaming, sexual assault and suicide are heavy topics and time to debrief between episodes will allow for opportunities to share thoughts and feelings.

’13 Reasons Why’ is a well-acted dramatization of Asher’s novel but we need to continue to remind our teens that whilst it raises many relevant and important issues, the series is a Hollywood production and when you die you do not get to make a movie or talk to people anymore and leaving messages from beyond the grave is not possible in real life.

Suicide affects everyone and everyone can do something to help if they see or hear warning signs that someone is at risk of suicide. So how do I talk to my teen about suicide?

(Adapted from https://headspace.org.au/assets/School-Support/How-to-talk-about-suicide-with-young-people.pdf)

  1. Give accurate information about why people suicide
  • Complex, range of factors (rarely one event),
  • Link between mental health, feeling of hopelessness and suicide
  1. Avoid blame
  • Range of contributing factors
  1. Don’t focus on the method of suicide
  • Focus on emotions brought up by someone’s death
  1. Address feelings such as anger and responsibility
  • Talk about the range of feelings, including anger that can occur following someone’s death
  1. Encourage help-seeking
  • Revisit networks (trusted adults)
  • Kids Helpline 1800 5511 800
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Youth Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
  • Headspace 1800551 800
  1. Ask about suicidal thoughts
  • If you are worried that a young person might be at risk of suicide, it’s important to talk to them directly about your concerns in a calm and non-judgmental manner.

Take the opening that this series offers, to discuss with your teen healthy ways to cope with the topics covered. Suicide is actually not a common response to life’s challenges or adversity. Many people who experience these issues will reach out, talk to others and seek help. Remind them that “We can talk with someone about anything, no matter what it is.”

*Note “13 Reasons Why” is rated MA 15+ in Australia

If you or someone you know needs to talk with someone in Australia you can call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

If you are in the US you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1800 273 8255.

By: Justine O’Malley