‘13 Reasons Why’ and Teen Mental Health

By now you’ve probably heard of the wildly popular and highly controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, based on a #1 New York Times and international bestselling novel. The series chronicles the 13 reasons why Hannah Baker, a high school student, takes her own life. Her reasons are explained in cassette tapes which are intended for those who contributed to demoralizing events and her tragic choice. 13 Reasons Why tackles some really tough topics—mental illness, bullying, rape and suicide.

“Teenagers are up against some very serious social hurdles and this show illuminates these risks,” said Autumn Dunham Neubert, LSCW, Memorial Behavioral Health–Springfield Children’s Center. “Positively, the show sheds light on mental illness and helps destigmatize very serious psychiatric concerns.”

After reading the book or watching the series, teens who do not suffer from mental health concerns may discover they are more sensitive to their peer’s struggles and become better advocates. However, 13 Reasons Why also increases risk for youth who are already struggling with mental illness and vulnerable.

“The biggest risk this show presents is suicide contagion, which is a very real concern. The recurrence of suicide after a friend, loved one or famous person completes suicide, is well documented,” Dunham Neubert said. “Teenager’s brains are still developing. Impulsiveness, foresight and reasoning are underdeveloped, and guidance is necessary to problem-solve complex issues your teen may face.”

Dunham Neubert said it’s critical for parents to provide support and allow for emotional processing of this heavy subject matter.

Tips for Teens and Parents

  • Do not watch this show if you are currently having suicidal thoughts or will be triggered by graphic depictions of suicide.
  • If you choose to allow your child to watch the series, watch with them and allow for conversation about the struggles faced by the main character.
  • Discuss decisions that the characters made and alternative, positive choices.
  • Check in with your child regularly to assess stressors that are not readily volunteered by your child.
  • Access professional mental health support if your child is struggling with depressive symptoms and/or bullying.

Help is Available
If you know someone who has made comments about feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless, please encourage them to get help. If there is an immediate risk, call 911. If they are willing to seek help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

Take an anonymous, free mental health self-assessment. After you complete the assessment, you’ll receive immediate, customized feedback, and if necessary, the opportunity to schedule an appointment with Memorial Behavioral Health.

Autumn Dunham Neubert, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker who earned her master’s degree in social work from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. She supervises Memorial Behavioral Health’s Child Outpatient Therapy and Mental Health Juvenile Justice programs. She has worked for the past 6 years at Memorial Behavioral Health—Springfield Children’s Center where she specializes in the treatment of childhood mental health diagnoses and behavioral health needs. Her areas of interest and expertise are children’s mental health wellness, childhood trauma and LGBT issues.