The growing popularity of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has led to parents receiving warning letters across British Columbia regarding the show’s portrayal of teen suicide.
While some believe the warnings to be overly precautionary, a Suicide Prevention Counselor says they’re warranted, as the show could be interpreted by teenagers as glorifying suicide.
Kim Leifso, who works with Suicide Prevention Education and Counseling joined Simi Sara to talk about what aspects of suicide 13 Reasons Why gets right, and what aspects could prove to be ultimately harmful.
The show follows the fallout from teen Hannah Baker’s suicide, in which she arranged 13 tapes explaining her actions to classmates she believed to be responsible.
While Leifso says the depiction of Hannah as a successful, well-liked girl is a positive one, she says its portrayal of suicide as a solution could adversely affect those already contemplating.
“Particularly for the kids are thinking about suicide and are already struggling… [it] can make suicide seem like a more realistic and practical option.”
She says the show “romanticizes suicide death and revenge suicide” by presenting it as a way to get back at one’s tormentors.
The suicide of one’s peer, Leifso says, affects everyone, no matter how they felt about the victim.
“It really sanitizes people’s reaction… this show doesn’t really show the devastation that students and staff and families feel when a student dies by suicide.”
Statistics show that 12 per cent of B.C. high school students think about attempting suicide.
While less than half of those students actually do attempt suicide, Leifso says having a show that glorifies the act as a tool could negatively impact that statistic.
“If they’re already thinking about it then yes, this absolutely can give them more credence or more creative ways to try it.”
A large part of the problem, she says, is how many parents and schools try to avoid talking about suicide, presuming that bringing up the topic will motivate more teens to try it.
Leifso points at 13 Reasons Why as a prime example of how suicide is an issue with teens whether parents are actively talking about it or not.
“If the kids are already watching this, then we need to be talking about it.”
Studies have shown that seriously speaking to a suicidal teen about their concerns will significantly decrease their chances of attempting suicide.
A large part of that, she says, is having parents take a teen’s issues seriously – another thing she believes the show does well.
“It’s not always black and white, it shows what the kids are going through and, yes, this does happen at every single school.”
She says parents keeping an open dialogue with teens about suicide, whether they’re watching the show or not, is an area that needs huge improvements.
“Whether we want to talk about this or not, it is being talked about at school… would you rather have them get their information from their other 13, 14, 15-year-old friends, or you? I’d rather they get that information from a positive, healthy, productive adult.”
Leifso finished the interview by encouraging people of any age struggling with suicide to reach out, whether it be to a loved one or a professional.
“There is always help, and there is always hope,” she says.
Written by Tristan Martin-Woodhouse