HYANNIS — A popular Netflix series based on a fictional young adult novel has sparked conversations and outreach about teen suicide, including on Cape Cod where educators and experts are recommending parents discuss the topic with their children if they allow them to watch the show.
The 13-episode show, “13 Reasons Why,” is based on Jay Asher’s New York Times best-seller of the same name, and chronicles a fictional high school student named Hannah Baker who dies by suicide, leaving tapes behind for people she blames for ruining her life.
The show, which is wildly popular among teenagers, has drawn criticism from nonprofit suicide prevention organizations for romanticizing or trivializing the issue.
In advance of spring vacation this week, Barnstable High School school counseling department head Jennifer Clark on April 13 sent an email about the series to parents and guardians of the school’s students.
“Barnstable High School is not recommending this series nor is it part of any curriculum,” Clark wrote. “However, given the graphic nature of some of the content, if you allow your child to watch this series, we strongly recommend that you watch with them and have opportunity for discussion.”
Stephanie Kelly, executive director of The Samaritans on Cape Cod and the Islands, a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides support to people who are lonely, depressed, or suicidal, agrees with the school that it would be a good idea for the parents of middle or high school age students to watch the program with their children.
“It opens a door for parents to ask their children if they’ve ever felt that way,” Kelly said. “To ask the hard questions.”
The Samaritans run a hotline for anyone experiencing suicidal feelings, but because it is anonymous there is no way to determine if teenagers have been calling in greater numbers since the series aired, she said.
Teenagers, Kelly said, tend to reach out for help differently than adults. The Samaritans in Boston have a text hotline, she said.
Kelly, who watched the series, said while it did a good job laying out contributing factors of teenage suicide, like bullying, she and some of her colleagues found that it didn’t touch on the issue’s complexities.
“Some colleagues that I’ve spoken with think it’s too simplistic in its way of explaining why this young girl died from suicide,” Kelly said. “It’s never just this one thing. Often times there is an underlying mental illness.”
The Cape & Islands Suicide Prevention Coalition shared on social media a tip sheet created by the Jed Foundation, a national teen suicide prevention nonprofit organization.
The sheet informs readers that suicide is not a “heroic” act, and memorializing someone who died by suicide is not recommended.
It isn’t appropriate for teens to decorate the locker of someone who died from suicide, according to the tip sheet.
“I think that people need to…