Should I let my child watch 13 Reasons Why?

By Dr. Elena Mikalsen
Chief of Pediatric Psychology
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

Mental health professionals have become increasingly concerned about the new hit Netflix show and its portrayal of the suicide of the main character, Hannah. While I am glad that the show can start conversations about bullying, sexual assaults in high schools, and teen suicides, I am also very concerned about how the show incorrectly portrays some facts about teen mental health and suicide in general.

Hannah’s suicide is portrayed as being caused by the actions of other people (bullies, friends, school counselor, etc.). In reality, decades of research on teen suicide have shown that 90 percent of teen suicides are the result of mental illness. Teens first develop mental illness, such as depression, social anxiety, panic disorder, ADHD and then slowly, over time (one to two years), become unable to cope with stressors in their lives. When a teen with mental illness encounters bullying, divorce, family violence, academic stressors, and other stresses present in teen lives, he or she develops thoughts of suicide and begins to contemplate ending their life. This means family, school counselors, pediatricians, mental health professionals are able to intervene and help the teen if symptoms of mental illness are caught early on.

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