A year and a half ago, Gurleen Bolina lost a friend to suicide.
That didn’t stop her from binge-watching the new Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why over two days during Easter break. The series explores suicide and other sensitive topics like bullying and sexual assault.
“It’s definitely difficult to watch. It left me with an empty feeling, I guess, because I just watched it before I went to bed,” Bolina said. “Then I would turn it off, go to sleep, wake up, watch a few more episodes.”
13 Reasons Why tells the story of high school student Hannah Baker who takes her life – in graphic detail – and reveals the reasons why in a series of taped cassettes created for those she blames for her downward spiral. Netflix rates the show for mature audiences and notes it may not be suitable for children under 17.
The series is captivating teen audiences globally while raising some concerns among some mental health organizations. The Centre for Suicide Prevention is concerned the series does not follow the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention’s media guidelines, which discourage reporting details of the method or offering simplistic reasons for the suicide. It released a statement, which says in part:
“Suicidal people do not kill themselves to seek ‘revenge’ against others who have hurt them. In fact, people in crisis do not want to die at all: they want the pain of living to end.”
“People in suicidal crisis are experiencing such deep psychological pain that they cannot see another way out of their pain except death; given an option, they will choose the option. When people who are thinking of suicide are asked by someone they trust, ‘Are you thinking of suicide?’ they will say yes. They want to live. Dramatic portrayal of a suicide death glamorizes suicide, and may trigger those who are already struggling with suicidal thoughts. Suicide is not glamorous; it is an act carried out in complete and utter desperation as a result of acute suffering.”
Psychologist Cory Hrushka says a lot of teens have encountered topics like bullying and suicide on some level by early junior high. He says watching the show with your kids could make broaching sensitive topics easier.
“It also allows you to not only bond with the child but gauge how they are reacting to the show and if they have any questions it allows them to ask those if the parent is open enough to that,” Hrushka said.
“Some parents may want to watch it just as a guard dog and the children might not feel comfortable approaching them because the parent is not comfortable talking about these topics. So it all depends on the intent of the parent for watching that too.”
Bolina believes the themes in the show exist in other media, which is easily accessible to teens. She encourages people triggered or upset by the series to reach out.
“It’s a hard show to watch, but come talk to someone afterwards, even if you’re going to talk to a friend,” Bolina said. “If you’re having some off feelings about it, talk to someone.”
Edmonton Public Schools sent out a warning to parents about the series.