Even if you aren’t a Netflix subscriber, you have probably heard about the new series 13 Reasons Why. The series concerns a teenage girl who is raped and commits suicide. As a mental health expert, I have significant concerns about the popularity of this show among teens.
Artistic license aside, from a teenage brain perspective, here are two main problems I have with the show as a psychologist.
First, most Netflix shows are binge-watched because all shows are available at once. Most teens will watch one episode right after the other. Why does this matter? Without a week (or even a few days) between episodes, there’s less opportunity for the adolescent brain to digest the graphic content of suicide, to discuss the content with others, or allow ample time for their more logical brain centers to dive in and put the highly charged emotional material into context. To me, this is the equivalent of an overdose of highly disturbing material. I sincerely hope this series does not nudge kids on the edge of suicide to take that horrific step, which is happening with greater frequency these days across the nation.
Second, there’s no post-episode service message and hotline (at least several teens have reported to me they haven’t seen one). Something has to be addressed at each episode and be conspicuous.
If the series makes people more aware of suicide among our young children and teens, that would have great benefit. But without some structure in place for this to happen, I fear kids will be left to their own devices to make sense of this. Keep in mind, the majority of young people watch these shows alone on laptops.
A deeper discussion among parents, teachers, educational leaders, politicians and clergy is required to ensure that teenage suicide remains in the realm of fiction instead of the all too common occurrence that it has become.