Portrayal of Mental Illness on Netflix's 13 Reasons Why

The facts on depression and suicide research.

Posted May 05, 2017

Image via IMBD
Source: Image via IMBD

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This week was designated as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. A new Netflix series – 13 Reasons Why – has sparked a lot of dialogue about depression and suicide prevention. In the show, the main character, Clay, seeks to understand why his crush and classmate decided to end her life. Many have spoken out against the show and some have expressed a desire for it to be canceled (see article from CNN). As a member of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP), I was glad to see the organization make a statement on 13 Reasons Why (read here). It notes, “While the show serves as a 'conversation starter' for mental illness and suicide, it fails to demonstrate the availability of evidence-based mental healthcare.” In response to the recent controversy, Netflix has added a warning to the beginning of the show and created a website with information about mental health resources.

Warning Signs of Depression

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression symptoms vary for individuals and may include the following symptoms:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities.
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, or being “slowed down.”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
  • Appetite and/or weight changes.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts.
  • Restlessness or irritability.
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment.

In a previous post, I provided information on suicide and suicide prevention. One of the first steps in helping someone with depression and suicide being aware of the warning signs. People may not always be open about their emotional state, so if you can recognize these signs it helps to start a conversation. Be sure to listen and stay calm.

What You Can Do to Help

It can be hard to identify if someone is depression and even more difficult to know how to respond when someone opens up about being depressed. The first thing to do is recommend or help the person find a mental health provider or psychologist. Below are some additional suggestions from the NIMH to help those you know.

  • Offer support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
  • Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one’s health care provider or therapist.
  • Invite him or her out for walks, outings, and other activities.
  • Help him or her adhere to the treatment plan, such as setting reminders to take prescribed medications.
  • Help him or her by ensuring that he or she has transportation to therapy appointments.
  • Remind him or her that, with time and treatment, the depression will lift.

Additional Resources

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Copyright 2017 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.