GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – “13 Reasons Why” is a hit Netflix series that’s become extremely popular with teens and pre-teens.
But it’s the subject matter that has parents concerned and looking for answers on how to address the topic of suicide.
After being bombarded with questions from parents and school district officials wondering how to address this series, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan called a panel of mental health experts, counselors and teens to discuss the series Wednesday night.
“From my experiences, the social interactions between students happen to be very accurate,” said Forest Hills Northern High School sophomore, Jack Jendrasiak.
Jendrasiak confirmed what many parents watching the hit Netflix series feared; high school can be like that and the way teens treat each other on a daily basis can be cruel and even traumatic.
Mental Health Foundation Executive Director Christy Buck says that’s where the series misses the boat.
“There were so many questions as to whose fault it was, and there was never any discussion about the fact that [Hannah] lost a battle to a very serious illness called depression,” Buck said.
So what are teens picking up from this controversial series?
Cat Lanting from the Mental Health Foundation said the series does a good job of showing signs, symptoms, risk factors and stressors.
“If someone were to die by suicide, is there a memorial? Do people take selfies in front of the locker? Those are dangerous images for young people to see without that conversation of this is not an option, it’s not glamorous,” Lanting said.
“13 Reasons Why” was released on March 31 – just in time for spring break, allowing a lot of teens time to binge watch the show.
Dr. Valencia Agnew of Adolescent and Family Behavioral Health Services said that since the release, she had more calls to her office in a one-week period than they’ve had in a year.
“Our teen groups, they’re talking about, ‘Wow, I watched that and my parents didn’t know I was watching it and I thought it was OK to watch. I got so far into it I wanted to see what was happening,’ and it takes them much longer to return to a baseline emotionally because it impacted them so much to have watched it,” Agnew said.
If your teen is going to watch the show, the Mental Health Foundation recommends parents watch with them.
“There are such teachable moments with your kids,” Buck said. “How could this have changed? Do you ever see this? What could somebody have noticed?”