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Fairfield County Parents Warned: '13 Reasons Why' Gets Suicide Wrong

A local social worker is cautioning Fairfield County parents about the themes of the Netflix program "13 Reasons Why."
A local social worker is cautioning Fairfield County parents about the themes of the Netflix program "13 Reasons Why." Photo Credit: Netflix

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — ”13 Reasons Why” may be the most-Tweeted about TV show of the year, but a local social worker is warning Fairfield County parents that the Netflix show poses a danger by glamorizing teen suicide.

“I find the show very problematic — professionally and personally,” said Emily McCave, associate professor of social work at Quinnipiac University and former president of the Southern Connecticut Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The graphic nature of the show can trigger suicidal thoughts in vulnerable teenagers who may be struggling with mental illnesses, she said.

“The show sensationalizes suicide — teenagers think, ‘I will be famous and get attention,’” McCave said. “This is concerning to people who work with teenagers. We are fearful that it may produce suicide copy-cats.”

Teens are at risk for impulsive behavior, she said. And the graphic nature of the show may push them to attempt suicide in the same manner.

McCave, who at the age of 3 lost her mother to suicide, said the hit show perpetuates the myth that suicide is not complicated. The main character dies by suicide as an act of revenge and sends cassette tapes to people explaining the “13 reasons” for her suicide.

“I have chosen not to watch it as a survivor,” said McCave, who said depicting suicide “just for entertainment” does not help society deal with the overall problem of mental illness. 

Teens tend to gravitate to popular social media trends — the show was the subject of 11 million Tweets within three weeks and is now the cover story on “Entertainment Weekly.” But McCave said teens should stay away from the show.  “I am conveying the message that it’s OK not to watch it,” she said.

McCave said parents should ask their kids if they are watching “13 Reasons Why” — and they should be prepared to discuss it with them if they are.

“We want people to know that they are not alone and that there are people out there who can help. There are people who know how you feel,” she said. “We talk to kids about safe sex — we should talk about mental health issues, too.”

What’s the best message for teens? McCave said to tell them, “I love you and care about you and I’m here if you want to talk.”

For more information on the topic, click here to visit the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board. You can also call the Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), which operates 24/7 and is free and confidential, for yourself or on behalf of someone. In Connecticut, call 211 for information.

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