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‘13 Reasons Why’ Through the Lens of A Clinical Psychologist

The show can be a catalyst to help adolescents struggling with depression and suicide.

1. Talking about suicide does not lead to suicide. Talking about suicide gives a voice to the feelings underlying the suicidal ideation.

The show may give rise to suicide contagion (aka copycat suicides which are suicides that are catalysts and triggers to further suicides). And in fact, my work in a residential treatment facility for eating disorders corroborates this concern. When one adolescent patient would come forward in reporting that they had been self-harming, a floodgate would open and give rise to handfuls of other girls self-harming. For the majority, this was not a newly learned behavior, but rather, a vehicle with which to communicate to us their feelings of loss of control, anger, and desperation.

2. There is no one size fits all description of mental illness.

Ninety percent of all completed suicides are in individuals who had some form of mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Suicide is a behavior, a response, a reaction to mental illness. The American Psychiatric Association specifies various criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (what is colloquially referred to as depression). To the layperson, these are jargon-filled specifications that are all too easy to overlook or miss.

3. The show is shown through the lens of a teen, capturing their ideas and worldview and is not meant to outwardly debunk myths, but rather, more indirectly call attention to them.

When we talk with teens, we often do so at a level they simply cannot comprehend. While the adolescent brain is maturing at an exponential rate, several areas of the mind implicated in decision-making, emotion regulation, and inhibition remain underdeveloped.

4. We are all doing the best we can and we can all be doing a little bit better.

Hannah faces barriers to reaching out for help that may send the wrong message to teens — telling them that help is not available or that it may not be worthwhile to ask for support. The school counselor in ’13 Reasons Why’ is distracted by his own personal life and lacks an educated understanding of rape and the harmful effects of victim-blaming. This is not representative of therapists as a whole.

5. Suicide is the final act, but it starts much earlier than this.

While we often see suicide as the last act, the show depicts the various events that led to Hannah’s final moments. Beyond that, we can see into the lives of her peers, all facing issues of their own (unstable family environments, sexuality and sexual orientation concerns, rape). There are instances upon instances of events, small and large, that take place leading up to the characters acting in the way that they do. It seeks to give context to the act of suicide, rape, bullying, and so on, rather than simply focus on the ultimate end.


In short, the series is an opportunity for us as parents, clinicians, counselors, teachers, school systems, and youth to begin a dialogue. It is a jumping off point and should not speak for itself. We should be mindful of our own histories and the feelings that the series drudges up in us. Perhaps our reluctance to accept the series for what it is, is our own fear of death, depression, and a sense of hopelessness. These are the very things we should be talking about, not ignoring or shutting down.



Opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees.

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Amy E. Ellis, Ph.D.

Clinical psychologist, Assistant Professor at Albizu University and Co-Director of the Trauma Resolution & Integration Program at Nova Southeastern University