Please note that this article discusses depression and suicide.
Statistics regarding depression and suicide rates among teens and young adults paint a pretty disturbing picture. A recent contribution to this conversation has come in the form of the Netflix created series 13 Reasons Why. While the show boasts an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, some have been critical of the show, questioning whether it provides a forum for discussion of suicide or merely glamorizes it.
The show centers around Hannah Baker, a high school student who has committed suicide and left behind thirteen tapes, each explaining one of the thirteen reasons why she took her own life.
University of Toronto Associate Professor and Psychiatrist Dr. Marshall S. Korenblum recently wrote an article in the Toronto Star outlining why the show might be negatively affecting young people experiencing depression, and best steps forward regarding the content and subject matter.
Korenblum starts by noting some of the things the show got right. Firstly, the show illuminates issues of bullying (both in person and cyber), sexual assault, and teen suicide, and brings topics out into the open which are usually hidden from view. It also provides a wake up call to parents, showing a situation in which a person appears totally okay, but the next day is gone forever.
But for all of the positive aspects of the show, there are some serious issues according to Korenblum: "[H]ere’s the problem: Suicide is very often an act of despair and hopelessness, not just anger and revenge. This show not only portrays suicide as a valid, logical option, but it shows suicide as a highly effective way to get even with people who’ve hurt you. Kids don’t realize that, if they’re dead, they won’t be around to watch their tormenters suffer."
When speaking about the graphic nature of the main character's suicide, Korenblum says it's simply unrealistic: "You would not be at peace and calm. You don’t look like you’re at the spa."
Korenblum thinks the show may even lead to an increase in suicide attempts, citing anecdotes from his colleagues: "a colleague at a Toronto hospital told me six young people taken to the ER for suicidal behaviour on a recent weekend specifically cited 13 Reasons as part of their motivation."
Rather than trying to stop kids from watching the show, Korenblum recommends that schools and parents take a leadership role and have open discussions of the show's themes and portrayal of teen life; to put them into context.
Korenblum says that once of the best things parents can do is "create an environment in the home where it’s safe to talk about tough things."
Korenblum signs off with a plea for parents, "With a show like 13 Reasons out there, now is the time to check in with your kids, look for signs of depression and open dialogue about their emotional health. Depression and trauma are highly treatable, but only if you ask for help."
Wise words, indeed.
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