Clay Jensen, Jessica Davis, Tony Padilla and their classmates at Liberty High School return to Netflix Friday in the second season of “13 Reasons Why” where they are left grappling with the truths revealed following the suicide death of fellow student, Hannah Baker.
The show, which was based on Jay Asher’s young adult novel and widely viewed when first released in March 2017, received mixed reviews for its detailed and sometimes graphic portrayals of teen suicide, depression, stress, anxiety, bullying, sexual assault, death and more.
The Press talked with Dr. Tami Benton, Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Executive Director and Chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Cathleen Morris, director of youth programs at AtlantiCare’s Buena Regional schools teen centers, about what they think of the show and how viewers can prepare heading into season two.
What were some initial reactions among students, parents and mental health professionals when the show debuted last year?
BENTON: What happened was that a lot of parents had no idea that the show was out there and their kids were binge watching it. Parents were blindsided in that respect, though some kids did talk to them about it.
It was based on a novel that was well received, and a lot of teens who watched it felt positively about it. Some saw the portrayal of some of their own emotional situations or experiences and it gave them an opportunity to talk about those things.
We did start to see some kids come in to the ER who were emulating what they witnessed on the show, including suicide attempts and leaving 13 notes, so we sent notes out to parents and schools about (the show).
MORRIS: The issues and topics covered on the show are absolutely relevant. The title of the show, however, doesn’t really say anything about suicide, so I don’t think parents really knew that it was a show about a suicide.
We were very proactive with the start of the show by talking to students about it, especially because of how serious the subject matter is.
What is your advice on who should and shouldn’t watch the show, now in its second season?
BENTON: For kids not really struggling with mental health issues or sexual assault and have had conversations with their parents, we don’t worry as much with that group.
But for kids who are struggling with things like depression and suicidal thoughts, I recommend not watching it, because it can trigger certain experiences and they might actually be re-traumatized. I also don’t think anyone should be binge watching every episode back to back. I recommend families watch an episode and talk about it.
What are some good things that have come out of the show and what are your greatest concerns and criticisms?
MORRIS: I like the fact that it started conversations about suicide and mental health, but a lot of people didn’t know how to respond to some of those things and the show didn’t give people resources to do that.
We also talked with students about the fact that Hannah keeps coming back in the show even after she has died, and with suicide, it is final. You can’t come back and it’s usually not done out of revenge. I think the second season perpetuates the idea that suicide isn’t final. Hannah is still in the second season and that gives an unrealistic portrayal of the finality of suicide.
BENTON: The series did good job conveying the effects of bullying, marginalizing people and issues that really affect young people. Where they fell short was that they didn’t offer a lot of solutions for people watching the show, and I know producers this time around sent ahead public service announcements with warnings about the content of the show, so I hope that better prepares people this season.
For anyone struggling with some of the same issues and situations the characters face in the show, or if they know someone else who is struggling, what can they do to get help?
BENTON: People should feel comfortable asking others directly, ‘Are you okay? Do you feel suicidal?’ For kids who have been thinking about suicide, sometimes it’s a relief when they’re asked about it. They may not feel comfortable telling someone and feel ashamed, but sometimes asking those questions gives them the opportunity to talk and get help. Usually someone like a school counselor can steer them in the right direction, even though Hannah’s counselor fails to do that in the show.
I always tell kids to identify at least one adult you trust who you can talk to. And for parents, you can turn to other parents or your primary care physician for help if you think your child may be struggling with something. It doesn’t always have to be a behavioral health specialist.
MORRIS: We’ve talked about the counselor in show and how he dismissed Hannah, and I told students that that was not ethical and help is usually available. I would say reach out to your schools, national suicide hotlines, the 2nd Floor Hotline geared toward adolescents, psychiatric intervention programs.
If one of those topics in the show resonates with you or someone in your circle, talk to somebody. If you don’t get help from that person, get help from someone else, because suicide is final.
What does this show and its popularity say about the younger generations?
BENTON: It’s a challenging social time for young people, and social media doesn’t help. Depression and suicide rates are increasing and this generation reports much higher levels of stress than adults, but they do have the strength to talk candidly about it and how they can make a difference.
This generation recognizes that talking about these issues doesn’t make you weak and there’s a need to act on addressing them. Adults can partner with them to make it constructive.