Netflix series sparks concerns over teen mental health

A growing number of sources are placing the spotlight on a controversial new Netflix series that could be a potential ‘trigger’ for teens with poor mental health.

Thirteen Reasons Why is an adaptation of Jay Asher’s 2007 teen fiction novel, focusing on a high school-aged girl who commits suicide and leaves behind a number of recordings on cassette tapes, which she sends to her peers to explain why she has killed herself. While the series has received largely positive reviews and enormous response from its target audience—teenagers—worldwide, there are concerns surfacing within schools and colleges about its potential to ‘trigger’ teens who are already suffering with mental health problems.

In the UK and USA, there are strict guidelines in place for the portrayal of suicide in film, television drama and soaps, however, because of its unique position as an online entertainment distributor, Netflix does not fall into the correct category to adhere to these rules. Subsequently, the suicide portrayal in Thirteen Reasons Why is much more graphic than teens may be used to witnessing in other popular TV series or films.

It is important to note that Netflix and the actors, writers and producers associated with Thirteen Reasons Why have been very vocal in promoting suicide prevention contacts and resources since its release. As with the majority of suicide portrayals in drama, that in Thirteen Reasons Why does not attempt to glorify the act, but rather draw attention to the complex issues surrounding the decision.

However, many teachers, parents and schools staff have been understandably alarmed to learn that their teens are being exposed to content of such a graphic nature. The greatest concern is that teens will mimic the actions of characters in the show, particularly those who are already suffering with pre-existing mental health conditions.

Suicide is a complex issue, and often there are many contributing factors that lead to an eventual decision. It is vital that teens are made aware of the complexities and the often ambiguous nature of the act.

The Samaritans have created a ‘Help A Friend In Need’ leaflet, which provides guidance on what to do if you suspect someone is suffering with poor mental health and/or is suicidal. You can view and download a PDF of the leaflet here.