Editor's note: This story discusses suicide. If you are looking for help, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
As parents and teachers express concern over the new Netflix suicide show “13 Reasons Why," a prominent adolescent psychiatrist is calling on the company to stop streaming the series.
“This show should be pulled off the air immediately,” Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie on Friday.
“Teenage suicide is contagious. We know for over three decades that when kids watch television where they depict a suicide, they’re more likely to attempt and they’re more likely to actually (kill themselves).”
Netflix declined to respond to Koplewicz's remarks. The original series depicts a fictional high school student who leaves behind a trail of tapes revealing 13 reasons — including bullying, underage drinking and sexual assault — that her character says led her to kill herself.
With 5,000 teenagers predicted take their own lives this year, Koplewicz told TODAY Parents there are 5,000 reasons for Netflix to remove the series. Here’s what he wants families to know:
Why should the show be pulled off the air?
Koplewicz: Teenagers are more at risk for committing suicide than children or adults. Ninety percent of teenagers who commit suicide have a psychiatric disorder. That means that they are very vulnerable.
The problem with “13 Reasons Why” is that it shows you that when you’re in trouble as a teenager, there is no help, you’re hopeless and that suicide is glamorous and effective — that’s not the message we want them to have.
Three decades ago, studies were done after there were four TV programs on the networks about teen suicides. About two weeks after the event, versus the two weeks before the show was seen on TV, there was a definite increase in both attempts and actual completions.
Netflix has been completely unethical and irresponsible in putting this show on the air because it ignores decades-worth of research and public health policy on how we take care of teenagers in general, and how we take care of vulnerable teenagers.
It’s only a matter of time when we will start seeing more suicide attempts among teenagers and more completions. The responsible thing to do is to remove the program immediately, not to keep promoting it.
What should parents know about ’13 Reasons Why’?
Koplewicz: This is a very high-risk television program.
Here we have a show that has very attractive people and a character who committed suicide and is glorified. The message that comes out again and again in the 13 episodes is that when you are a teenager and you feel hopeless, suicide is the solution. That’s a terrible message for all teenagers, but particularly for those who are vulnerable.
I would tell parents that they shouldn’t permit their children to watch it. If they have seen some or all of it, then it’s absolutely imperative that you sit down and have a conversation with your child and explain to them that suicide is not a solution. That if they are facing any bad event or bad feeling, you are there as a parent to help them.
You most probably have to discuss the show with your children whether or not they’re going to watch it because if you don’t, someone else is telling them about it.
How should parents broach the subject of suicide with their kids?
Koplewicz: Mental health conversations should be brought up at a Friday night or a Sunday dinner — a family conversation — and not once; it’s an ongoing dialogue. The conversation is that mental health disorders are real, common and very treatable.
The “Speak Up For Kids” campaign features celebrities like Emma Stone talking about their personal mental health challenges.
You can say: “If someone like that could suffer, get help and do better, that means we should all think about the fact that our brain is also an organ and it can be affected and therefore we need to get help. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, in the same way we’re not ashamed about having kidney problems or heart problems.”
A suicide talk is very different. It would be stimulated by this TV program, a public suicide or if someone you know took their life
You can say: “Someone was in so much pain — their brain was misguiding them, giving them the wrong messages and, unfortunately, they didn’t get the help they needed. If they would have gotten help, they would be alive today. There’s so much help for treating people who have depression or anxiety.”
“As a parent, I always want you to know that no matter how bad you think things are, I’m always here to help you.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 anytime. For international resources, including hotlines in every country and more information, please check out this Crisis Information page created by Netflix.