Netflix show popular among kids 'glamorizes' suicide, says mental health professionals

‘13 Reasons Why’ centers around high school student Hannah Baker who takes her own life, after leaving audio recordings for the 13 people she claims contributed to her death.

School leaders and mental health professionals in central Nebraska are desperately trying to warn parents about a popular new Netflix show young people are watching. Thirteen Reasons Why takes on teen suicide, but some are saying it does more harm than good.

"As I very first started watching it, I immediately was alarmed," said Bailey Koch a special education teacher and mental health advocate.

Thirteen Reasons Why centers around high school student Hannah Baker, who takes her own life after leaving audio recordings for the 13 people she claims contributed to her death.

Kearney Public School leaders were so concerned about the show, they sent a letter alerting parents and staff. Along with the letter, the district sent talking points for adults to talk to youth about suicide as it relates to the situational drama that unfolds in Thirteen Reasons Why.

"In our community right now, it's especially poignant because we have had some significant loses by suicide," said Dr. Krista Friston a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the clinical director for Local Outreach for Suicide Survivors (LOSS).

Some suicide prevention groups are saying the show glamorizes suicide.

"The person who died by suicide in this film is getting a lot of attention from it; and it can create, especially in teenage minds and young minds, false conceptions or perceptions of even suicide being an option. Suicide is not typical. It’s not the way students and young people respond when they’re in crisis,” said Dr. Friston.

Dr. Friston says the show can mislead young people, because others are blamed for Hannah’s suicide.

"Most of the time mental health issues, especially depression or anxiety are involved when we talk about death by suicide. This series does not really address the metal health issue," said Dr. Friston.

"We don't want to play the blame game with mental illness,” said Koch, who teaches child development and special education in Kearney. "It's very, very sad to believe that somebody who has lost a loved one to suicide will watch this and believe that they could have done something different, that they didn't do enough."

Koch’s family has been directly impacted by suicide.

"My husband is a 5 time suicide attempt survivor. We operate a support group for individuals with mental illness," said Koch. "I had one person who came to me and told me that she was feeling very triggered by a lot of the things that she was seeing [in the show]."

The Jeremy & Bailey Koch: Anchoring Hope for Mental Health Ministry meets Sundays in Cozad at 6:30 p.m.; for more information, click here.

Both Koch and Dr. Friston agree young people should not watch the show.

“I would not endorse watching the show, especially for youth. Probably especially for individuals who have significant depression, anxiety, or especially suicidal ideas,” said Dr. Friston.

However, if your kids already are watching the show. they recommend having an informed discussion with them.

"I think it's important to have a discussion. To say 'hey let's watch this together, I'm interested in that too.' Become involved and then partake in conversation. Without that conversation we don't know how things are interpreted," said Dr. Friston, adding one of the worst things parents can do is ignore it, and pretend that their kids aren't watching the show.

"Thing that Hannah Baker never did in this series is, she never reached out to anybody. Nobody had any idea of any internal battle that was happening, until after the fact," said Koch.

If you're struggling with thoughts of suicide, there is help; you can call 1-800-237-TALK or text "START" to 741-741.

Below are suicide intervention resources:

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