A new Netflix series called '13 Reasons Why' is sweeping the nation and raising concerns about teen suicides. Experts say it's a growing concern, and they fear a show that depicts such a serious and tragic issue could trigger suicidal thoughts.
"You have basically a whole show, 13 episodes, dealing with the topic of suicide very directly," said Shel Gross, director of public policy for Mental Health America of Wisconsin.
They believe a large problem is that the series is extremely accessible. Netflix can be streamed anywhere at any time, and even if your teen doesn't have access to your account, they can find it through friends.
Parents may not even be aware their teen has watched the show, when in reality they probably have. Local licensed professional counselor Melissa Walden said she was surprised when she talked to her daughter about the show.
"She just happened to bring it up like, 'Oh, yeah. I'm watching this series.' And I'm like, 'You are? When? Where?' and she was like, 'Oh, we're watching it on our phones at school at lunchtime," Walden said.
The show is about a young woman named Hannah, and the 13 people she says caused her death by suicide. The show is wildly popular and broke a Netflix record. It's even been signed on for a second season that will air in 2018.
Licensed counselor Andrea Vogel said she specifically is concerned about the graphic nature of the series.
"There are two sexual assaults that are very graphic, and I thought at the very end, the suicide, was not just visually graphic, but the auditory piece was disarming," Vogel said.
Therapists say how teens react may vary, but there's concerns among some experts that it could just be too much for some younger viewers.
"Teens who have a history of being bullied, sexually assaulted or abused, they're already at greater risk of suicide because of those things. A show like this will trigger that because of its very graphic depictions," Gross said.
A majority of '13 Reasons Why' takes place inside of a high school. The last episode shows a conversation with the school counselor, who Hannah turned to in a final cry for help. Many area school districts were upset by his reaction.
"It's very devastating to hear of a counselor that would say, 'No biggie, just man up,'" said Theresa Daane, director of students services at Mt. Horeb School District.
To make sure parents know they're here to help, local districts, like Mt. Horeb, and others around the nation are sending out letters, explaining their concerns over the series and how to find resources.
"Parent's don't ever feel like they have to navigate these waters alone. If they have questions on how to approach something, if they know their child has watched it, they can ask questions themselves or they can get in touch with someone in their school district and get some answers," Daane said.
Daane said, to her, the show is especially concerning because of the number of suicide attempts in her district alone.
"That's frightening when you think of 36, 43, 52 kids in our seventh through 12th grade have attempted suicide at least once in the past 12 months," Daane said.
It's not just Mt. Horeb. These high numbers are appearing in schools city-wide.
"The numbers don't get smaller in bigger districts and the proportion doesn't change for smaller districts. It's something happening everywhere," Daane said.
She said the staff at her district is always looking out in the hallways for signs of suicide thoughts.
"When you see a students grades really plummeting, when you see behaviors changing with the student, when you see students self-isolating, those are things that we notice at school," Daane said.
She also hopes this show is reminder for others to watch for the signs too.
"It is a community that needs to wrap around those children who have having mental health crises and have mental health needs to support them so they can continue to learn, grow and thrive," Daane said.
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