A Boston-area school district is among several issuing a warning to parents over the new Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.
Newton, Massachusetts schools sent a letter home with students this week encouraging caretakers to preview the show before letting even teens watch it, describing the show as “difficult” and warning that kids could be “overwhelmed” by the subject matter.
The show has faced a flood of criticism since appearing on the online streaming service earlier in the month, with critics claiming the show, which is based on a teen novel of the same name, glorifies suicide as a way of sending a message.
The book 13 Reasons Why, a young adult bestseller, followed a young teen girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves coded messages to thirteen friends, acquaintances, bullies, and key figures in her high school to teach them a lesson about how to treat other people in the wake of her suicide.
But while the book portrays Baker’s self murder as a tragedy and makes clear that she suffers from a crippling depression that couldn’t be cured simply by altering people’s behavior, the television adaptation seems to show her suicide getting results, bringing her classmates together—and never once touches on the issue of mental illness.
Psychiatrists who consulted on the show say their suggestions—that Baker be portrayed realistically, and that the show not depict the suicide itself—were totally ignored, and they’re concerned teens will miss the story’s message because of that.
Netflix, for its part, says they’re happy with how the program turned out, and have routinely patted themselves on the back for their gritty, successful teen drama.
“We have been mindful of both the show’s intense themes and the intended audience. We support the unflinching vision of the show’s creators, who engaged the careful advice of medical professionals in the scriptwriting process,” the network said in a statement.
According to mental health professionals who worked with the Newton school district, including the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Dr. Christine Moutier, the show is only appropriate for kids that parents feel are in a “good place.”
“I would watch it if your kid is in a solid state of mental health. If you have a kid who is struggling or is some years out from a mental health issue—anyone who’s had a suicide attempt or become suicidal—they should just stay away from this show,” Moutier said.