Though Montezuma-Cortez High School counselors Carmen Maness and Tammi Slagle said the way the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” handles suicide is questionable, they said it might help generate helpful conversation.
The show revolves around the suicide of a 17-year-old student who records audiotapes detailing why she ended her life. It debuted on March 31.
Maness said Friday that M-CHS students have talked about the show and found similarities to high school life. Students also said it helped them be more aware of their actions and how they affect other students.
But the show makes no mention of depression or mental health, and depicts few ways of getting help for those who are struggling, Slagle said.
“When a show is dealing with suicide and youth, it’s concerning,” she said.
If students think a classmate is having suicidal thoughts, they should report it to an adult, Maness said.
“13 Reasons Why” has drawn criticism for its graphic depictions of suicide and sexual assault involving teenagers. The National Association of School Psychologists does not recommend that vulnerable youth watch the series, according to its April 28 letter to M-CHS parents and students.
The series may lead viewers to romanticize choices made by the characters in the show, the letter states.
Maness and Slagle said it’s important for parents to learn about mental health, and to talk with their children about it.
“There is lots of misinformation with students and parents,” Slagle said.
She suggested parents watch the show and talk with their kids about it.
If parents don’t have that conversation, their kids won’t know how they will react, Maness said. There is a stigma surrounding mental illness and depression, and some struggling students might not want to discuss it with their parents, she said.
“It’s been an eye-opener talking to students about how their parents would react,” she said.
She’s never had a case where a parent has been upset with their child for discussing depression, she added.
Adult characters on the show, including school counselors, don’t appear trustworthy or helpful, according to the National Association of School Psychologists letter.
Maness and Slagle said the school’s counseling staff are highly trained. Both hold master’s degrees in school counseling and have received training on how to recognize signs of depression, mental illness and suicide, Slagle said.
“We would never minimize the problem or turn kids away,” she said.
One misconception is that asking someone if they are thinking about suicide might push them toward it, but that’s not the case, Maness said. Often, the person is relieved that someone cared to ask, she said.
“Asking if they are thinking about suicide can open the door for them to get help,” she said.