There are a lot of diverse conversations online and in the community regarding the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, which is adapted from author Jay Asher's best-selling young adult novel of the same title. The show addresses the topic of suicide and the complexity of mental health and adolescent / peer / parent relationships.
The show is not for the faint of heart. It is visually graphic in some instances, and emotion-provoking in many others. Any parent should be cautious about having their child, no matter their age, watch it.
The main concern with the show, it appears, is will it encourage or trigger someone who is suicidal to act on those thoughts. The answer is that is unlikely. The decision to commit suicide does not appear to be decided by one incident, but rather by a variety of issues combined with a mental health disorder. Most people who commit suicide (up to 90%) have an underlying mental health disorder.
The biggest impact that the show has had is the conversation it has started about suicide. For too long we have had these conversations AFTER a tragic situation. The show gives us as parents, and as a community, an opportunity to discuss the impact of suicide BEFORE it happens in real life. The primary conversation needs to take place with parents and their kids. There is no positive impact without conversations.
The most effective solution, if a child is adamant about watching it, is to watch the show together and have open conversations. That way parents and kids have an opportunity to be on the same page at the same time. The internet-age has made everything accessible to everyone. The more the show is talked about, the more curious kids will be. Let’s face these questions and uncertainties together.
Here are a couple tips for starting a conversation about suicide taken from the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide:
- Timing is everything! Pick a time when you have the best chance of getting your child’s attention. Sometimes a car ride, for example, assures that you have a captive, attentive audience. Or a suicide that has received media attention can provide an opportunity to bring up the topic.
- Think about what you want to say ahead of time and rehearse a script if necessary. It always helps to have a reference point—try something like, “I was reading in the paper that youth suicide has been increasing…” or “I saw that your school is having a program for teachers on suicide prevention.”
- This is a hard subject for you to talk about with your child, so admit it! Say something like, “You know, I never thought this was something I’d be talking with you about, but I think it’s really important.” By acknowledging your discomfort, you give your child permission to acknowledge their discomfort, too.
- Ask for your child’s response. And be direct! Try something like: “What do you think about suicide?”; “Is it something that any of your friends talk about?”; “Have you ever thought about it? What about your friends?”
- Listen to what your child has to say. You’ve asked the questions, so simply consider your child’s answers. If you hear something that worries you, be honest about that, too. For example: “What you’re telling me has really gotten my attention and I need to think about it some more. Let’s talk about this again, OK?”
- Don’t overreact or under react. Overreaction will close off any future communication on the subject. Under reacting, especially in relation to suicide, is often just a way to make ourselves feel better. ANY thoughts or talk of suicide should ALWAYS be revisited—even if your child says, “I felt that way a while ago but don’t any more.” Remember that suicide is an attempt to solve a problem that seems impossible to solve in any other way. Ask about the problem that created the suicidal thoughts. This can make it easier to bring up again in the future, such as, “I wanted to ask you again about the situation you were telling me about…”
Also, feel free to check out Tips for Watching New Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why provided by Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE).
If a crisis is mounting, or you are having thoughts of suicide, please do not hesitate to talk to someone who can help at the numbers below:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255)
- Text “WYO” to 741-741
- And, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger because of thoughts of suicide call 911 NOW
Brian Edwards, LMFT, CATC, is a co-founder of the Wyoming Center for Clinical Excellence in Gillette, Wyoming. Brian specializes in trauma, group counseling, marriage and family therapy and substance abuse and addiction therapy.