Two B.C. psychiatrists are offering guidelines for parents about how to talk to their kids about the controversial Netflix TV show 13 Reasons Why.
The show, which premiered on Netflix Canada in early 2017, depicts the troubling life of high school student Hannah. Narrated by the girl herself, the show touches on the themes of gossip, bullying and sexual assault that she says led to her suicide – shown through flashbacks and a set of tapes she creates and sends to her peers before ending her life. Its second season is set to debut on May 18.
Parents, teachers and health officials have expressed concern in the way the show depicts and glamorizes teen suicide, as well as aggravating a teen’s existing mental health problems.
On Thursday, BC Children’s Hospital psychiatrists Drs. Tyler Black and Ashley Miller said care centres across B.C. saw an uptick in young people seeking help after the first season was released. Google searches around suicide-related topics also went up.
“We had a clinical sense there was an impact,” Black said. “When we look at some of the research coming out, both preventative suicide searches [online] and looking for suicide prevention increased, but also research on how to die or ways of dying were things that were increased searches because of 13 Reasons Why.”
Black pointed to the well-researched Werther effect, also known as the copycat effect, in which media coverage and depiction of suicide can trigger those who are more susceptible to such acts themselves.
Both doctors said parents have been left having to navigate through conversations they may have never had with their child around sexual assault, self harm or suicide.
“Parents were definitely asking us, ‘What do I do about this show with my kid?’” Miller said. “Even as recent as this past winter, kids were still watching the first season and were having more suicidal thoughts and parents are really feeling at a loss with how to handle it.”
Miller said the best things parents can do is ensure their children know they can speak to them and not hesitate to reach out to supports in their community, including their family doctor.
“We think it’s much better to watch the show with your teens, to open the discussion with them,” Miller said.
There’s also a disconnect from adult characters, both parents and teachers, and teens in the show. In some cases, the teens turned to alcohol and violence when faced with problems.
“The truth is, some teens will perceive their parents that way,” Miller said. “What we want parents to show their teens is that they can handle it, that they are aware – and if they aren’t aware of mental health, there are a lot of resources to learn about it…
“We want parents to talk with their kids to say nothing is off limits here, because these things are happening in a kid’s world, they’re going to talk to their friends about it and research online, and its much better if they can talk to their parents about it and get the sense that their parents can take it and want to be in it with them discussing these things.”
Parents and teens can visit the Foundry Foundation for more information.
If you or anyone you know needs support for depression or suicide-related mental health problems, call the Canadian Assistance in Suicide Prevention 24/7 hotline at 1-888-353-2273.