It’s been the hottest thing on Netflix since “Fuller House” appeared on the service and it’s stirring up controversy, debate and conversation everywhere.
At the end of April, the Marysville school district sent an email to parents regarding the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why.”
The show, which this week was renewed for a second season, revolves around 13 cassette-tape recordings left by a teenage girl to the 13 people who influenced her decision to commit suicide. Some experts say it’s a candid and open conversation about teen depression and suicide. Others fear it glamorizes suicide as a way to get attention.
Marysville Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Langhals said the district’s letter was not about voicing an opinion on the show but instead about opening conversation with parents.
“It is not the district's plan to take a position on the series. We simply wanted to inform parents and increase awareness,” Langhals said.
He said although he has not watched the series, the district’s guidance-counselor team is well connected with students and brought the subject to the administration’s attention.
“By talking with students, our guidance team felt like this topic was being discussed between students and growing,” Langhals said. “Parent awareness was a concern, so the guidance team approached district administration about a districtwide communication.”
The letter points out that the show includes not only the serious subject of suicide, but it also includes graphic representations of alcohol and drug use, violence and sexual assault.
“This is mature content and can be difficult to watch,” the letter stated. “With this in mind, we want to reach out to families to raise awareness regarding this series. We all know parent influence is essential as children grow and develop. If appropriate, we encourage you to take this opportunity to engage in a conversation with your child.”
The email also offers several links to resources for families who believe they might need help with this issue, including a letter written by John Ackerman, Ph.D., regarding the series. He said suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 34-year-olds.
Holly Zweizig, director of planning for the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Union County, said her agency offers a program in all three school districts in Union County, including Marysville, to address teen depression and suicide. It’s called “Signs of Suicide” and was started two years ago. It’s a two-day curriculum presented in health classes at the middle schools and high school.
“The first day is kind of some general awareness around the comparison of the commonality between physical health and our mental or emotional health,” Zweizig said. “We want students to recognize the information related to mental health and some of those basic awareness pieces, like the brain is part of our body and can be affected just like any other organ in the body.”
She said they want students to learn ways to identify emotional distress in themselves and in their peers and to know which adults they can talk with to get help.
The second day of the program includes a 30-minute video that acts out scenarios and gives students tips on when or how to intervene and how to help their peers.
Like Langhals, Zweizig has not watched the series but has read some reports on it and said she sees the pros and the cons surrounding the show.
“I think that it may bring the issue to light. But I would always caution and couch that to make sure that we’re giving out not only an accurate interpretation, but to also make sure that we’re not left hanging,” Zweizig said. “What do we do with that information and how does it apply to me?”
Zweizig said she recommends that parents not let their children watch it alone.
“(They should) be just as active in watching the series with them as they would if they had concerns about any other major health issue — to be available for questions and to check in,” she said.
“The topic of mental health deserves more attention as students across our nation are faced with many more challenges than we were as kids, especially with the additional challenges of social media,” Langhals said. “We can never talk enough about what is happening at home, school and the community in regards to mental-health challenges.”
Zweizig said it is a sensitive topic.
“I think our adolescents are probably more aware of these issues than the adults in their lives,” she said. “I also think that they are more hesitant to talk to the adults in their lives than their peers.”
Those in need of help can call the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Union County hotline at 800-731-5577 24 hours a day or text 4help to 8551.