We’ve all been spending a lot more time at home due to COVID-19, and for many people that has meant watching more TV than usual. One of Netflix’s most-watched programs has been ’13 Reasons Why’, with the fourth season of the show about a teenage girl who takes her own life being released recently. The release has again sparked conversations about children watching graphic content and how that might affect them.

Two perspectives

Arguably, there are two sides to ’13 Reasons Why’; it can open up conversations around mental well-being and suicide, however, it also provides imagery around suicide that could provoke suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide). Open conversations in which people feel safe and validated can be supportive and therapeutic, and a series like ’13 Reasons Why’ can initiate these kinds of conversations. We ask the question: how can we have safe and supportive conversations about mental wellbeing and suicide with young people who are watching the series?

Exposure to the topic of suicide

Dr Fiona Wagg, a psychiatrist at the Royal Hobart Hospital, stated that most people will be exposed to suicide at some stage of their lives, whether it is through a lived experience, watching the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’, or even through social media. Clinical Psychologist Kelly Pettit suggested that parents know about the content of ’13 Reasons Why’ so they can discuss it with their child(ren). She states that parents can convey safe and supportive messages to their child(ren) through understanding the topic and how to talk about it safely. You can read the full article here.

Emotional responses and support

According to youth mental health organisation, Headspace, it is important to be aware of the risks for young people who are watching the series, to support them in managing emotional responses to the content, and to ensure that young people know who to turn to should they wish to reach out. They have created a resource specifically about how to talk to a young person about suicide. It addresses the main concerns around the series and suggestions on how to respond to these concerns. See the guide here.

Online mental health service also reminds parents to be mindful of their own response to the series. It would be understandable if you feel anxiety around the topic of suicide and perhaps around how this may affect your child(ren). Do not hesitate to reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or professional to share your concerns and talk through your feelings, and seek support or information. See here for some helpful information and resources for parents.

How to have a conversation around suicide

Mental health professionals generally agree that the best approach is to ask your child(ren) open questions about their thoughts and feelings towards what they have seen in ’13 Reasons Why’. Asking about the experiences of your child(ren) in watching the series could be more useful than sharing your opinions with your child(ren) at the start of the conversation. Parents can then listen to their child(ren), offer compassion and validate their understanding, while reminding them that we are never alone and can always reach out for support.

At times, ’13 Reasons Why’ may portray that help is not available, so it is important parents advise their child(ren) that there is support available.

Where can that support be found?

If you or someone you know are thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis, help is available. No one needs to face their problems alone. It takes courage and strength to ask for help. Seeking support can help you to get through tough times.

Call Lifeline WA on 13 11 14 – 24 hours a day

Chat to us online 7pm – 4am (AEST), 7 days a week

Call 000 (Emergency Services) if life is in danger.

13 11 14 is a confidential telephone crisis support service available 24/7 from a landline, payphone or mobile phone.

Find out more about getting help here:

You can also contact your General Practitioner for support. They can provide a referral to a mental health professional or suggest local support groups or other initiatives that you may find supportive.

Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash