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Teen Suicide and “13 Reasons Why”

adolescent suicide

Many parents, children, and adolescents have been spending time talking about the book and follow-up mental health series, 13 Reasons Why. This series graphically details teenage sexual assault, bullying, and suicide. The main character tragically dies by suicide.
It is always good to offer discussion and awareness about mental health. However, all over the world, mental health providers and organizations have raised concerns about 13 Reasons Why.

While the show serves as a “conversation starter” for mental illness and suicide, there are some very large concerns

It fails to demonstrate the availability of evidence-based mental healthcare

There are effective treatments available for mental health issues. No one should ever feel that they must suffer needlessly or alone with these concerns. It is important for anyone having thoughts of suicide to let a parent, teacher, physician, or counselor know. Unfortunately, when 13 Reasons shows mental health providers, they are reflected as unhelpful or incompetent. As a result, the show may discourage youth from seeking help or advice from adults, counselors, physicians, or other mental health providers.

In real life, there are people who are not helpful or knowledgeable about mental health. In fact, this is even common at times. However, we should teach our children how to remain persistent, use their voices, and seek out good and helpful mental healthcare and support. Good treatment is out there. Good people who will listen are out there.

” When the main character, Hannah, does seek help from her counselor, she is let down by his ineptitude. Depicting mental health professionals in this light sends the wrong message to teens who may be considering speaking to a teacher, a counselor, or even a parent.”

The Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology(SCCAP)

Missed Teaching Opportunities

The series fails to teach what could have helped or what could have prevented her death by suicide. When it comes to suicide, we should all learn ways to help and support teens and young adults. We should also be able to talk to them about what to do if a friend or loved one presents these symptoms.

“The series misses the opportunity to teach teens about mental health, how to spot the signs of a friend in trouble and how to seek help. A more responsible approach would have been to provide information at the end of each episode with resources for teens about how to deal with these issues and seek help. Instead, the series leaves the viewer with no resources or advice for dealing with these complex issues.”

The Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology(SCCAP)

What Can Parents Do?

Supervise and Talk to Your Kids

Iowa City Psychology

If your child is in elementary school, this show or book is not for her. If your teen is going to watch this show or read this book, you should read it with her. You will need to provide information on appropriate mental health resources and help your teen debrief from the information on the show. You will need to calmly and carefully communicate the severity and permanency of suicide, and assure your teen how loved and needed they are.

Learn about the factors that can put a teen at risk for suicide

  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Psychological and mental disorders, especially depression and other mood disorders, schizophrenia, and social anxiety
  • Substance abuse and/or alcohol disorders
  • History of abuse or mistreatment
  • Family history of suicide
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Physical illness
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Financial or social loss
  • Relationship loss
  • Isolation or lack of social support
  • Easy access to methods/means of suicide
  • Exposure to others who have committed suicide

If your child voices suicidal thoughts, seek help

If your child voices depression, anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm, it will be important to find a psychologist, psychotherapist, or psychiatric specialist that is well-trained in mental health treatment of children and adolescents. Always take these concerns seriously.

Where to Find Helpful Information on Suicide, Trauma, and Mental Health

Resources/Advice to Teens and their Families

Dr. Michelle Reising Scobey recently published a very well-written blog-post on her thoughts about 13 Reasons Why. The following resources are from her post.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide

  • Tell a trusted adult. If they do not help, tell another trusted adult. Keep telling adults until someone helps you.
  • Call a suicide hotline (1-800-273-TALK/8255; 1-800-784-2433)
  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Call 9-1-1.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse or trauma

  • Tell a trusted adult. If they do not help, tell another trusted adult. Keep telling adults until someone helps you.
  • Get help. Find a therapist who specializes in trauma. Healing is possible.
  • Report the abuse or trauma to your state’s Department of Children’s Services and/or to the police.

If you or someone you know has experienced bullying

  • Tell a trusted adult. If they do not help, tell another trusted adult.
  • Keep telling adults until someone helps you

Resources about suicide can be found at the National Institute of Mental Health Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Services of America.

Resources about depression can be found at the National Institute of Mental Health Depression.

Resources about childhood trauma can be found at The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Resources about sexual assault and/or PTSD can be found at

Resources about bullying can be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Safety and Children with Disabilities.

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