POMONA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Concern over the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has some Tri-State Area schools emailing parents.
The cautionary tale about suicide is the latest binge-watching television rage for high school age viewers. Among the 15-year-old girls CBS2’s Lou Young spoke with, those who hadn’t seen it yet were getting ready to do so.
“A lot of my friends have watched it. They said it’s really sad, but also they just really enjoyed it,” high school student Lisa Caputo said. “They said they cried a lot.”
So does she want to see it?
“Yes, definitely,” Caputo said.
The show, “13 Reasons Why,” is an adaptation of a popular young adult novel, where the central character explains her suicide on audio tapes she leaves behind, sending her perceived tormentors on a kind of postmortem scavenger hunt, Young reported. It’s engaging, but to some, troubling.
“I think it sends a message kind of glamorizing suicide,” high school student Anna Broaddus said.
Watching the show, viewers might find it relentlessly depressing and hyper-dramatic. Experts Young spoke with said it’s also unnecessarily graphic and unrealistic. There’s concern it could trigger some real problems.
“We’re worried about suicide contagion,” Rockland County’s Mental Health Director Dr. Susan Hortner, said.
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In Rockland County, high schools made a collective decision to caution parents about the series, relying on talking points that were published by the National Association of School Psychologists. The fear is that students could identify too strongly with Hannah, the main character.
“That’s part of the concern about the glamorization of suicide. That somehow if you end your life, that you’re going to be able to exact your revenge, you’re going to be able to have an effect on people from beyond the grave,” Hortner said.
In Westchester County, Bedford Superintendent Dr. Christopher Manno first heard of the series from his daughter.
“My college-aged daughter Facetimed the family one Saturday night,” he told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “Said to my young children, ‘If you are interested in watching this, you have to watch it with mom and dad.”
President of the National Association of School Psychologists Dr. Melissa Reeves agrees.
“This is not something that children and adolescents can really process on their own,” she told Silverman.
Reeves wonders about the show’s producers.
“Did they consult any professionals who actually work in schools?” she asks. “Because the series ends with her death, there’s really no follow-up that sends the message to these students that there are multiple ways that you can seek help.”
Reeves also worries the show doesn’t really connect suicide to mental illness.
“What this show very much portrays is that suicide can be strictly related to just situational factors,” she said.
Manno decided to send a memo to parents in the school district.
“Almost 5,000 reads. That’s the highest number of reads to one of my school messages,” he said.
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Experts say the key is for adults to talk to teens viewing the show.
One mother said her daughter binge-watched it and came away with a positive message.
“I discussed it with my daughter, and it made her more mindful of the impact her actions have on other people that maybe she had not considered before,” mother Wendy Dunbar Mater said.
Psychologists say it’s best if parents watch it with their children. If not, to make sure they know adult help is always available for teens in that kind of mental distress.
Mental health experts also say the spring is prime time for activity on teen suicide help lines. That’s when end-of-school-year academic and social pressures are at their peak.