Training program Mental Health First Aid Australia (MHFA) has developed resource material to help adults deal with the themes of mental health and suicide that are portrayed in the #Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
The mystery-drama is adapted from the young-adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher, and stars Australian actress Katherine Langford as suicidal teenager Hannah Baker, who takes her own life before the events in the series kick off.
The documents created by MHFA are being issued to Australian schools in a bid to raise awareness of the show among faculty staff. The concern for the mental health service is to ensure that schools and adults are adequately informed of signs and triggers so as to assist troubled youth. According to the resource material supplied to schools by MHFA:
13 Reasons Why is not consistent with many guidelines for media reporting and depiction of suicide, and watching it may be distressing for young people, especially those who are vulnerable.
The resource material is split into two sections. The first outlines how parents should approach the subject of suicide, should their child wish to watch the show.
Under Adult Supervision
While MHFA believe that the show does genuinely set out with good intentions, there is a belief that many aspects of 13 Reasons Why do not accurately reflect events of the real world. Because of this, for adults who are concerned for the welfare of children, the complexities on how to best address these topics can be daunting.
If a young person hasn’t yet watched the show and wishes to, MHFA encourages the following:
- It’s OK to fast-forward through scenes of an upsetting nature. Viewing these scenes in full is not necessary to understand the story of 13 Reasons Why. Suicide and rape are not romantic and should not be considered entertainment.
- Young people should consider watching the show with a trusted, responsible adult as this will allow a safe space for questions about themes and scenes that are upsetting or confusing.
- While all the episodes are available to stream, they don't need to be binge-watched at the same time. Watching an episode or two a week or even less gives a young person time to think critically about the show, rather than risk feeling upset by it.
- It’s OK not to watch the show at all, even if friends are.
The second part of the resource targets the possible consequences for susceptible kids after viewing the series.
2. What Signs To Look For
Because the narrative of the story is arranged in a nonlinear format and jumps back and forth, it can give the impression that the character Hannah is aware and present for the consequences of her actions throughout the story. For MHFA, this is alarming because it can mislead a young person's perception of their ongoing part in the sequence of events following the subsequent fallout of a suicide. The MHFA guidelines explains:
If a person dies by suicide, they are not there afterwards to observe the aftermath. Because of the way Hannah’s story is told, it often feels like she is there watching and seeing how the story unfolds. Some young people may view suicide as a way of punishing someone or getting revenge, however they need to understand that a person who suicides will never see or know how things turned out after their death.
Additionally, the story shows that when Hannah is desperate, the only adult she turns to, a school counsellor, lets her down. For mental health professionals, it is critical that teenagers feel they can trust and rely on adults when feeling helpless.
MHFA goes on to address this in its talking point information:
The poor way the school counsellor reacted to Hannah’s statement that she had been raped, and his lack of attention to her, such as taking a phone call during their session, is not typical of counsellors. Counsellors are professionals who are trained to listen and provide help, and seek additional support for a person if needed.
In all, there are 10 talking points provided to parents and schools that directly respond to the content kids and teenagers are exposed to through watching 13 Reasons Why. Much of the resource content aims to separate fact from fiction and ensure that adults are fully informed of the issues.
Be Mindful And Aware
The goal of Mental Health First Aid Australia is to create an open forum between adults and adolescents who watch 13 Reasons Why so that the issues portrayed in the show can be discussed and explained. MHFA youth programs manager Dr. Claire Kelly explains:
“Telling young people they shouldn’t watch it may reinforce the idea that suicide shouldn’t be discussed. Instead, it’s important for the adults around them to be ready to talk to them about the content, and about what they should do if they or one of their friends needs help.”
As we all know, growing up is hard. There is nothing wrong with watching 13 Reasons Why; it's an entertaining show and certainly a conversation starter. For adults, though, it's worth explaining to the kids in their care who watch the show that suicide is not to be romanticized, nor death trivialized.
13 Reasons Why is streaming now on Netflix. How do you believe the show has handled youth suicide? Sound off in the comments below.
[Main image credit: Netflix]