Updates and Media: “13 Reasons Why” Applications and Thoughts

Content Warning: Suicide, Self Harm, Gun violence. Possible spoilers in comments about 13 Reasons Why Season 1 and 2.

I am back in Williamsburg working on my thesis. Lately, my goals have predominantly been conducing a literature review a recruiting participants. The project already has over 100 participants interviewed, but I am currently recruiting more families to participate in the study to get our retention rate up. Working on a longitudinal project for my thesis has been such a great experience, and I can’t wait to be done with the interviewing and recruiting process and move on to the data analysis part.
Like most College students, after a day of doing and reading I love to unwind by watching Netflix. Many television shows out right now are exploring teen mental health in various ways. Adolescent social and emotional development is such a hot topic in the media. A specific controversial and popular show is “13 Reasons Why.” Adapted from a novel of the same name, “13 reasons Why” aims to create a dialogue about teen mental health. Set in a high school, a suicide shakes the school community and leaves characters asking what they could have done. The show graphically depicts suicide, self harm, gun violence, mental health crises, bullying, and many other psychosocial issues that characters struggle with. While the series has been criticized for their handling of mental health by some, it has also been applauded by others for creating a space for these hard issues to be discussed. My feelings are somewhat in the middle of these two views. I appreciate mental health getting to be talked about and not hidden or shamed, but I also think graphical depictions of suicide, school shootings, and self harm can be detrimental to many who are struggling.

Watching the second season, I was interested to see the role that parents play in teen mental health come to the forefront. In various scenes, parents play a big role in talking with their children about stressful events, and in some cases, making the stressful situations much worse. “13 Reasons Why” highlights the big part that parents play in their child’s emotional and social well-being. This specifically interests me because my thesis is looking at how positive parenting can support teen mental health.

What do you think? If you feel comfortable commenting, do you think the show is positive or negative in regards to discussing teen mental health issues? Which parents in the show did the best job of supporting their children? Which did the worst? Is there a parent or scene involving a parent in “13 Reasons Why” that really sticks out to you?



  1. lroemer says:

    Really interesting to think about! In my opinion, the parents that follow up with their children when they recognize their child acting differently do a better job than the parents who don’t ask and just hope everything is fine. Several parents on the show essentially tell their children to “get over it” or to not deal with their personal issues because other things are more important. This is severely damaging to kids, who then learn that emotions should be stifled. However, some parents try their best to get their children to open up, and the kids still don’t really respond (as with Tyler’s parents). When watching the show this felt very realistic to me based on what I observed with my friends and people that I knew in high school; parents were thought to overreact to things and mishandle them. Now that I’m older I see the problems that result from kids keeping important secrets and pushing down their feelings. I think the show depicts those parent-child communication problems very accurately. I believe the most successful parents on the show support their children no matter what and stand behind them even if they’ve made mistakes. When parents acknowledge the legitimacy of their children’s emotions, the teenagers feel valued and more willing to open up to their parents in the future.

  2. srfranklingill says:

    It seems like recruitment is difficult, and not the most exciting part of research. I appreciate the work you’re doing, as we both need completed Time 3 data for our projects. Thank you for putting so much effort into recruitment!

    As for 13 Reasons Why, I have not seen the show but I have read a lot about it. I’m not the biggest fan, as I think the show is irresponsible in its portrayal of suicide. I agree that it is incredibly important to have these issues present in media to raise awareness and start conversations, but I also think it is entirely possible to do this while not showing the scene of suicide on screen. Research shows that showing the way someone harms him or herself is basically acting as a tutorial. It is possible to have characters who have die by suicide (which has not been linked to increased suicide rates) without showing it on screen or discussing the specific methods. I think the show could have had the same social effect without that specific scene. I find it confusing that a show that seeks to improve the social climate around mental health issues would also put more people at risk for those same issues.

  3. aswhitlock says:

    I personally haven’t watched the show, but I have read a lot of reviews of the show itself and am relatively familiar with the plot of the novel. From a detached, general perspective I believe there needs to be a balance in depictions of mental health. I think the series is a key piece to starting discussions about mental health, especially between younger audiences and older generations as well as bridging the gap in audiences of those struggling with mental health and those that aren’t. However, there needs to be a balance in depictions of mental health and the related events, such as school shootings, etc. that you mentioned. Although these need to be shown, they need to be done so in a way that not only avoids sugar coating the manner, but isn’t graphic enough to be triggering. In my own research about fighter pilots in the First World War, I am researching the connections and, with hindsight, misunderstandings of mental health in pilots’ memoirs and popular culture portrayals in post-war films, books, etc. In the preliminary research I have done, have found that there hasn’t been a balance in these portrayals even up until the present day: depictions either sugar coat the pilots’ experience as a mindless time for exalted youth or they show them ll as depressed, struggling alcoholics (although there were many of those, to be fair). There needs to be a balance.

    Considering you are watching tv shows/films about teen mental health, are you going to look at other forms of media, like music? A lot of artists seem to be more open about mental health in their music, especially a lot of rappers and bands like The 1975 and BTS.

Speak Your Mind