'13 Reasons Why' series prompts debate in Collier about teen problems, suicide
'13 Reasons Why,' Netflix’s adaption of the bestselling 2007 book by Jay Asher, has been renewed. Veuer's Lindsey Granger has the details. Buzz60
In the popular but controversial Netflix Original show "13 Reasons Why," the depiction of suicide, intoxicated driving and sexual assault has raised many eyebrows and much conversation among school districts, parents and mental health organizations nationwide.
"13 Reasons Why" revolves around the fictional Hannah Baker, 17, who commits suicide and leaves behind audio cassette tape recordings for 13 classmates who played a role in her decision to end her life.
Kelly L. Bushéy, a psychology professor at Hodges University in North Naples, approves of the show that premiered on the streaming service March 31. She first heard about the popular series from one of her students.
"I watched the series within a week," she said.
Bushéy has about 20 years of experience as a counselor working with young suicidal patients. She also is the vice chairwoman of Hodges' applied psychology department.
Her consensus on the show?
"The storyline was a relevant depiction of issues such as suicide and rape, along with the bullying and demoralization of the main character," Hannah Baker, she said.
"The greatest criticism appears to be that the show would stir a suicide contagion," she added. "However, it is unlikely that viewing one Netflix series would cause someone to end their own life."
The Collier County school district earlier this month sent out an email warning parents about the series, which is based on a 2007 novel with the same title.
The school district's email stated that "13 Reasons Why" romanticizes and glamorizes suicide but "provides no healthy alternative to children struggling with issues."
May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
Also in the email, the school district stated the series touches on important topics but that the "content is very graphic in nature, including suicide, sexual assault, bullying and other social issues."
If children watch the show, parents should watch it with them to open conversations on the issues, the school district suggested.
Karen Buckner, director of children's community services with the David Lawrence Center in Collier, offered several helpful conversation starters for parents and children.
"If your child has watched the show, here are some issues you may want to discuss: the importance of treating people with kindness, who students can talk to about emotional issues and suicide, and the importance of talking to an adult when things occur that are difficult to handle," Buckner wrote in an email.
The school district didn't wish to comment beyond its email but did promote its "We Care" campaign video series on mental health issues.
The series is a partnership with the Collier Sheriff's Office, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the David Lawrence Center.
The show is popular among students.
Micah Watson, 16, who attends Lorenzo Walker Technical High School, saw the entire series, and so have many of his friends.
"Honestly, it's an accurate portrayal of the worst parts of school life," he said. "It shows everyone doing such awful things to someone. It shows mainly the bad things.
"A few good things appear here and there, but overall it shows the problems Hannah Baker had with the school and the people she associated with."
The show, which was renewed for a second season, also has raised concerns in the mental health community since its release.
The National Association of School Psychologists spoke out about the series and issued cautions and considerations for teachers and parents in a news release.
"We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series," the release stated. "Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies."
Nationwide, many school districts sent out emails warning parents about the show's graphic content. Among them were three school districts in Indiana, which has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the U.S.
Oxford High School in Michigan took a proactive approach and gave students 13 reasons to live instead. For 13 days, the student body played a recording of students telling their stories during the morning announcements.
In the recordings, each teen revealed a problem they were struggling with. But instead of blaming someone, they thanked a classmate who helped them.
At Florida SouthWestern State College's campus in Charlotte County, school and law enforcement officials are investigating suicide notes left on the campus last month. The author of the notes included her initials and grade point average, but officials have not been able to identify her.
Some area private schools also have taken initiative. The Village School in Naples, for one, sent out an email earlier this month warning parents about the show's graphic nature.
"The concern, as it's stated in the email, is that young children are watching something that we certainly wouldn't want to promote," said Ginger Sauter, head of the school. "It could be misunderstood by children not being able to handle the situations."
She said the email came after staff heard older students discuss how younger students were watching the show despite its TV-MA rating.
In response to the backlash, Netflix has strengthened its messages before every episode and added links to suicide-prevention resources.
Netflix released a statement saying it will add "an additional viewer warning card before the first episode” as well as strengthen “the messaging and resource language in the existing cards.”
Bushéy criticized the show's portrayal of the school counselor's disregard for his students well-being but noted the series is a good conversation starter. She encourages parents to watch the series with their children or at least talk about some of the issues it brings to light.
"To create positive change, as a community, we could do that together with mental health professionals and a collaboration with the schools and opening those avenues of communication with the parents," she said.
People develop suicidal tendencies when they lack a sense of belonging or a support system, Bushéy added.
"In the show, the character loses her friends, and she feels like her parents were disappointed in her," she said.
The Collier school district encourages parents to speak to their children's doctors to address any mental health concerns.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) or text START to 741741