Popular Netflix series starts suicide conversation

A popular Netflix series depicting a teenager’s suicide is sparking conversations about the subject in our community.

“13 Reasons Why” is the story of a high school girl explaining the 13 reasons why she ultimately makes the choice to take her own life.

There is worry the show glorifies suicide, but a local school district and health official agree “13 Reasons” is starting an important discussion.

“I think it’s a great conversation starter,” said Jill Mason, director of student services at Holmen School District.

The latest talk in the Holmen High School hallways has focused on the topic, which is often swept under the rug.

“I’ve been in education for 15 years and I don’t remember another situation, TV series or anything like this that has spawned this much conversation, both with concern and positive conversation, about what is suicide,” Mason said. “A lot of students are talking about, ‘Wow this really has opened my eyes. I better help my friends if they’re going through this.'”

Mason said because of the show’s buzz, she sent school staff talking points and information to share with parents.

“They’re too afraid if they say something, it’s going to make their student die by suicide and that’s not true,” she said. “Having conversation is far more important than having the fear of bringing it up.”

That’s a point Mayo Clinic Health System child clinical psychologist Dr. Chelsea Ale wants to make loud and clear.

“There’s a lot of concern a lot of the time that talking about suicide makes people think about it more, and that’s really been debunked,” she said.

Ale said, however, that media portrayals of suicide can make it look glamorous and increase suicidal behavior, particularly in teens.

“Teens and pre-teens are watching this, so it is something at this point as a community we need to respond to,” she said. “As parents, we want to be watching it with our teens, having an open conversation.”

She said that open conversation about the show and suicide is important.

“Having that window for teens to reach out, to say, ‘I’m hurting, I’m thinking about this,’ we really should be encouraging that,” Ale said.

“My advice would be to keep talking,” Mason said. “Have conversations with your children.”

Mason encouraged parents to listen and be non-judgmental, and connect teens to resources such as Great Rivers 211. More community resources can be found here.