13 Reasons Why is a Netflix drama about a teenager. It has been accused of glamorizing or normalizing suicide. However, is it also an opportunity to start a difficult conversation.
Chances are if you have a teenager in your home, or you are a fan of Netflix shows, then you will have heard of 13 Reasons Why.
The show looks at the teen Hannah Baker, who, despite coming from a picture-perfect family in an even more picture-perfect town, ended up committing suicide.
She shares her story via 13 audio tapes, which, after her death, are shared between her friendship group. In particular, her best friend Clay Jensen who had no idea about the bullying and trauma that Hannah had faced at the hands of other children in her school group. This includes witnessing a sexual assault on a friend to being assaulted by the most popular boy in school.
Along with these horrible events, Hannah finds herself being ostracised by the rest of her friends, which leads her to take her own life.
13 Reasons Why is therefore relatable and accessible to teenagers who will have seen parts of this in their own school.
Suicide Rates Amongst Teens in the US and Overseas
From 2007 to 2018, the rate of suicide in the US for those aged 10-24 increased by nearly 60%. In 2007 the suicide rate in this age group was 6.8 per 100,000; however, during 2018, it was reported that this figure was now at 10.7 per 100,000. It is roughly 11% of all teenage deaths.
This trend was all over the US states, although it seemed to be highest in Alaska. With South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming also showing high rates. It is even higher in the rest of the world as a percentage due to lower homicide rates and car accidents. Comparable data is difficult but using this journal article it is far higher in young men in all countries. This data is all pre-broadcast of 13 Reasons Why.
What is the Effect of 13 Reasons Why?
We know it is hard to see how one TV program can impact teen suicide rates; however, it is much easier to see how teens can be influenced by what they see on TV. This is especially true if they are already in a fragile state of mind. Like the case of Molly Russell, children have access to far darker portrayals on social media, and education is by far the best means of defence rather than burying our heads in the sand.
There is a chance that someone who feels ignored, disliked or bullied, will see that the only way Hannah could be heard is to end it all. There is a sense of falling in awe with the drama post suicide, rather than focusing on the actual act of suicide itself, which is not a healthy approach for those who have mental health issues already.
One positive thing to come out of this particular TV show and its popularity is that it opens up discussions about complex subjects. Online bullying, physical bullying, and suicide can be difficult subjects for teenagers as parents. You want to ensure that your children know about it, but you don’t want them to think that it is a viable choice for them to make.
With this in mind, it is good to have a TV show that allows teens and their parents to broach the subject and discuss the key factors related to suicide and mental health issues in general. It is just as essential to ensure that your children understand where they can go if they need to talk to someone so that they don’t end up feeling that suicide is the only option open to them.
Final Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why
Whether this program is a positive or negative influence on children is unsure. It does normalize the idea of suicide, in the same way that programmes with drug taking do. However, suicide is already out there amongst our children. Rather than be reactive and panic if you find your child has been watching it, talk about suicide with them and the difference between films and real-life. It is also a great opportunity to confirm who they can speak to if they have an issue and other topics in the film.