13 Ways to Watch 13 Reasons Why

Posted by on May 9, 2017 in News | 0 comments

Dr. Andrea Letamendi

Critics are calling the new Netflix television series provocative and powerful, but what is the mental health community saying about the teen drama, 13 Reasons Why? We called upon psychologist and pop culture expert Andrea Letamendi, Ph.D., Director of Clinical Training at Hathaway-Sycamores, to weigh in on the controversial but undeniably compelling television show. In this article Dr. Letamendi shares facts and clarifies misconceptions about suicide to help teens, parents, professionals, and survivors consider the value of watching 13 Reasons Why.

Show Synopsis: In the web television series released on Netflix on March 31st, 2017, high school student Hannah Baker narrates the haunting, mysterious, and emotional depiction of the circumstances leading up to her suicide. Tormented by her unexpected death, Hannah’s classmate Clay listens to her “suicide note” via the cassette tapes she leaves behind.  For 13 episodes, Hannah details the “13 reasons” why she chose to end her own life.

  1. Watch together. 13 Reasons Why contains some mature themes and content, including sexual assault, cyber-bullying, and suicide behaviors. Be available to help young persons manage their reactions when viewing controversial content.
  2. Pace viewing. While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between television drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them between each episode is vital to processing these difficult themes.
  3. Start a dialogue about suicide. Watching a show that deals with teen suicide allows for direct, open, and safe conversations with young persons about their own experiences of thoughts or feelings related to suicide.
  4. Share the numbers. Every 13 minutes, someone dies by suicide.  This means that an average of 4 people end their lives in the amount of time it takes to watch a single episode of 13 Reasons Why. If someone is feeling hopeless enough to consider ending their life, they are definitely not alone. Help is available, and suicide is preventable.
  5. Clarify the “contagion effect.” Asking someone if they are thinking of suicide does not trigger suicidal impulses. However, some media depictions in shows and movies can lead to increased suicide attempts—this is called the “contagion effect”—especially when they expose vulnerable people to suggestive images and storylines.  Following the more graphic episodes of suicide behavior portrayed in 13 Reasons Why with careful discussion and debriefing is crucial.  Young persons with histories of depression, previous suicidal behavior, and current feelings of hopelessness should not watch alone.
  6. Community is key. 13 Reasons Why highlights the need for strong social support, mentoring, and community involvement. People close to the lead character in the show teach us a hard lesson: It is important for peers and adults to take bullying and mental health concerns seriously.
  7. Re-write the narrative. Reinforce the idea that suicide is not a solution to problems.  The show can create an opportunity to help young persons consider the consequences of certain choices, and come up with alternative solutions to difficult issues.
  8. Instill hope, not stigma.  How we talk about suicide can have an impact on survivors and family members of survivors. For instance, the phrase “commit suicide” increases stigma because it compares the action to a crime or sin.
  9. Create “13 Reasons” to Stay. As an exercise in mental health resiliency, work together to come up with “13 reasons” to stay alive. This activity allows both youngsters and adults to remain motivated and focused on their futures.
  10. Watch Beyond the Reasons, a 30-minute companion episode in which co-producer Selena Gomez joins others involved in the main series to discuss suicide, sexual assault, and mental illness, as well as resources for getting help.
  11. Leave with laughter. Follow any viewings of 13 Reasons Why with a more positive, uplifting show.  Netflix alone has multiple options of laugh-out-loud shows for teens, including the revival of Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Futurama.
  12. Plug in the hotline. Enter the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Trevor Project, the Teen Line and My3 in your phone and encourage adolescents and teens to do the same. Have a discussion about when to use these life-saving resources.
  13. Offer help. Take this opportunity to both prevent the risk of harm and identify ongoing social and behavior problems that may need to be addressed. Reinforce that mental health professionals are available to help.

The Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported a notable increase in calls to the hotline throughout the month of April.  13 Reasons Why is considered a contributing factor to the increase in suicide prevention calls.

13 Reasons Why may ultimately prove to be too mature, suggestive or upsetting for youth under 15 years of age who may not be able to grasp the nuances of the main character’s interpersonal trauma and emotional struggles. However, for older teens and young adults, the show has introduced a concept worthy of discussion: Is there such thing as good and bad messaging about suicide in the media? What we can probably all agree on as advocates, parents and professionals is that we should do the best we can to help youngsters navigate this new media content.  During Mental Health Awareness Month we ask that you join this conversation by encouraging, reinforcing and generating positive suicide prevention messages in the media.


The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ Youth: 1-866-488-7386

Teen Line Chatline:  CALL 310-855-4673 or TEXT TEEN to 839863

Suicide Prevention App for Android and iPhone: MY3 App

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