CAPS Staff: A Response to “13 Reasons Why”

By Tricia Besett-Alesch, PhD, licensed psychologist/clinical psychologist lead, training director/associate psychology manager
You or your friends may have heard about or viewed the hit Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, based on the popular book by Jay Asher.  
The 13-episode series follows a group of high school students as they piece together a story left behind for them by their classmate Hannah Baker, who died by suicide and left 13 taped messages for friends and acquaintances. 
While this popular series sheds light on important topics (e.g., bullying, drinking behavior, sexual assault), there are some shortcomings:
  1. There is no mention of whether Hannah had a mental illness in any of the episodes. Mental illness affects one in five adolescents
  2. The series comes dangerously close to romanticizing suicide and misses a crucial opportunity to discuss depression and thoughts of suicide that is affecting so many teenagers and young adults
  3. There is no example of successful help-seeking. The series shows how one professional’s behavior was unethical and that counseling did not offer hope and resources. Unfortunately, it sends a message that mental health professionals are not a trusted source of help. There is a theme of silence throughout the story.
Furthermore, as Hannah’s classmates struggle with the aftermath of her suicide, there are no scenes highlighting the ways her peers reach out to talk with their parents, teachers, or coaches despite having a very difficult time coping with this loss. Without showing how to ask for help or that treatment and counseling are available and trustworthy, the show falls quite short on giving supportive examples of what to do and how to seek support. 
Please know University Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services is here to help and is a trustworthy resource for you, your friends and peers. Talk to Us. WE can HELP. Call 402.472.7450.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can also text “START” to 741741 or call 1.800.273.TALK.
If you watch 13 Reasons Why, check out these important talking points developed by the Jed Foundation and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

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