The storyline about a teenage girl's suicide in the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why may make for gripping television, but it could also be dangerous. According to Headspace, an Australian mental health foundation, any media that describes suicide methods has the potential to trigger those at risk.
"National and international research clearly indicates the very real impact and risk to harmful
suicide exposure leading to increased risk and possible suicide contagion," Headspace's manager of school support Kristen Douglas told The Huffington Post Australia. "It's not like car crashes or cancer; irresponsible reporting of suicide can lead to further death[s]. We need to talk more about youth suicide, but there's a way of doing that and a way we can raise those concerns and have a range of awareness."
Douglas said she's already heard from people triggered by the show. "It has been raised with us, the content has created a lot of distress in recent weeks," she said. "People have disclosed their own distress, and that they're being triggered. It's great that people are talking about being in distress but this is also magnifying those vulnerabilities."
In addition, the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide warn against blaming a suicide on any one thing, since there are typically multiple causes, The Washington Post reports. In the show, the protagonist largely blames her peers and school counselor, which could encourage misconceptions about what leads to suicide and could make those who have lost someone to suicide blame themselves. Plus, mental illness usually precedes suicide, but it's not discussed in 13 Reasons Why.
Another potential issue with the series is that the protagonist is still around to narrate it, which could undermine the finality of suicide, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education 's (SAVE) executive director Dan Reidenberg told The Post. "Young people are not that great at separating fiction from reality," he said. "That gets even harder to do when you’re struggling with [suicidal] thoughts."
Selena Gomez and her mother Mandy Teefey executive-produced the show. Mental health is a topic near to Gomez's heart, since she's struggled with anxiety and depression. But while it's important to have conversations about these topics, we also need to be mindful of how we discuss them.
That's why SAVE and the Jed Foundation created talking points for parents to discuss the show with their kids. According to these guidelines, we should make it clear to anyone at risk that it's entirely possible to overcome suicidal thoughts. They also recommend reaching out if you feel triggered by the show. Talk to a loved one or a mental health professional, or contact SAVE by texting "START" to 741741 or calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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