Controversial Netflix series prompts letter to parents about suicide

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)- A Netflix series about teen suicide has prompted at least one local school district to send home a letter about the topic.

The show is called “13 Reasons Why,” and it tells the fictional story of a teen girl who dies by suicide. She leaves behind audio recordings for 13 people who she said played a role in the decision.

Dr. Philip Downs, Superintendent at Southwest Allen County Schools, sent letter to parents Tuesday. In the letter Dr. Downs said it is best that young people watch the show with an adult. He also encouraged parents to talk with their children about suicide. Guidelines from the National Association of School Psychologists are included in the letter to help facilitate a discussion.

“Use it as an opportunity to talk about some of the complicated sensitive issues it confronts and clear up misconceptions,” said Dr. Downs.

Mental health experts are concerned the series romanticizes suicide and blames the act on others. There is also concern that it downplays the value of treatment and fails to offer solutions. Alice Jordan-Miles, Director of IPFW’s Behavioral Health Institute, said the series is problematic.

“It’s unfortunate they didn’t use this platform to save lives verses encourage to take lives,” said Jordan-Miles. “Suicide is a forever solution to a temporary problem and this is not how the series is presenting it.”

Jordan-Miles said Indiana is the number one state for young people contemplating suicide and ranks number two for suicide attempts.

Leaders at East Allen County Schools said there is a suicide prevention class that every freshman goes through. The show, “13 Reasons Why,” could soon become a part of the class discussion.

“I think the key is to get out in front of that,” said Jeff Studebaker, EACS Safety Director. “Talk to them and discuss what it is that they’re hearing and what they learning in the series.”

Jordan-Miles said it’s important for faculty and parents to encourage these conversations.

“This is a very touchy subject and a lot of parents want to avoid it like the plague,” she said. “But if your kid is not talking to you they’re going to talk to someone else.”

If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, call 1‐800‐273‐TALK (8255) or text “LOOKUP” to 494949. There are also resources on lookupindiana.org and remedylive.com.