CHICAGO (CBS) — With its graphic portrayal of teen suicide and depression, the popular new TV series “13 Reasons Why” has struck a cord with youth.
The Netflix original has become the most tweeted about program this year.
“As a parent, I was ill prepared,” said Gwynne Lockwood Hales.
The program, which is intended for mature audiences, entered Lockwood Hales’ life when her 12-year-old daughter asked if she could watch it.
“It was the talk of the cafeteria — the boys are watching it, the girls are watching it.”
Lockwood Hales is a mental health professional, and after reviewing it, she found the content troubling, especially for at risk kids watching it alone. “Four episodes in, I started texting parents and calling, wrote a letter to the school, really concerned that 12-year-olds were watching the show.”
But concerned officials in Northfield’s district 29 were already taking action, along with administrators in Barrington. Both sent out newsletters outlining the show with links to counseling services, with Barrington warning the show “warrants caution.”
“In general, it romanticizes suicide,” said Heather Freed, the executive director of Erika’s Lighthouse, a non-profit resource for depressed teens. She said 12 school districts have reached out for help in speaking to families about the program.
“I think a lot of people are afraid about what to do and doing the wrong thing,” Freed said.
As a result, Erika’s Lighthouse has created a resource guide for schools and families to help them navigate the difficult emotions the program could stir up.
“You don’t even have to say anything; you just have to open up a conversation and listen,” Freed said.
“13 Reasons Why” does have a resource video for teenagers who are battling depression, but if viewed in sequence, it comes at the end of the series. Some mental health professionals said that may be too late.