Frequently Asked Questions – 13 Reasons Why, provided by School Mental Health ASSIST – May 4, 2017

Netflix recently released the series 13 Reasons Why based on the popular young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher. The series depicts the story of a high school student who dies by suicide, leaving behind 13 cassette recordings that share the events that she perceives led to her death. Series like this one can lead to misconceptions and misinformation about suicide, and possibly to the glorification of suicide.

For these reasons, mental health professionals, including the Waterloo Region District School Board’s mental health team, feel it is necessary to make you aware of this series. The WRDSB is providing the following tips, distributed by School Mental Health (SMH) ASSIST and National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), to help with conversations you may have with your child:

  • Encourage critical thinking and remind them that the series is fictional and includes many unrealistic elements.
  • Remind them that it is normal to experience periods of stress and distress and there are healthy coping strategies (e.g. exercise, talking to friends). Model self-care and healthy coping strategies to your child.
  • Let them know that school counsellors are professionals and trustworthy and that their depiction in the series was not accurate.
  • Talk openly about emotional distress and suicide. Doing so, does not make someone more suicidal.
  • If they exhibit any warning signs, such as direct and indirect suicide threats, giving away prized possessions, preoccupation with death in conversation, writing and drawing, changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts and/or feelings, and emotional distress, do not be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them.
  • Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
  • Listen to your child’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond and remember what is being said.
  • Remind them to always seek support if they need it from family members, counsellors, coaches, teachers, or a crisis line like Kids Help Phone, 1-800-668-6868.
  • If the concern is more urgent call Front Door Mental Health, 519-749-2932, Here 24/7 – Addictions, Mental Health and Crisis Services, 1-844-437-3247, take your child to a hospital emergency department or call 911.

“We recommend that you ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. If your child insists on watching the series, we encourage them to watch with parents and caregivers. This will provide an opportunity to discuss the show and their thoughts,” said Peter Rubenschuh, superintendent of student achievement and well-being.  “We will continue to do everything we can to support student mental health and well-being.”

If students raise questions about the series, WRDSB staff will address the content in ways that are sensitive and appropriate, especially with our most vulnerable students. For additional information, visit Preventing Youth Suicide Brief Facts and Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips or Parents and Educators.

As always, if you have individual concerns about your child related to mental health, or need additional resources, please contact your child’s school.