'13 Reasons Why': Resources for treating and talking about mental illness

Hannah Flood

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- The popular but controversial Netflix show has parents and school districts talking about teen suicide and how to talk to kids about mental illness and self harm.

The show '13 Reasons Why' is about a 17-year-old high school student named Hannah Baker who commits suicide. Before she dies, she makes a series of cassette tapes explaining how each of her classmates contributed to her decision to take her own life.

The show also includes graphic depictions of rape and a detailed suicide scene. The show is rated mature on Netflix, but it's become popular for many teens.

The Executive Director of National Alliance of Mental Illness of Dane County, Lindsey Wallace, says she has some concerns about the show.

"I think one of the problematic things of the show is that Hannah's tapes really blame others for suicide and it's never the fault of other individuals or survivors of suicide loss that somebody took their life," Wallace said.

She says something positive the show has done is encouraged parents and teens to talk about mental illness and suicide openly.

Many school districts around the nation, including here in Wisconsin, are warning parents about the content of the show and are encouraging them to make sure their children are watching it with a parent or have a conversation with their children about mental illness and suicide.

"Just talking about suicide doesn't make kids suicidal," Sun Prairie School District School Councilor Vicki Fetlz said.

She says even if it's difficult to bring up mental illness with your child she says it's important to at least start the conversation.

"Just asking them, 'have you ever thought about suicide?' and that's a very, very difficult question for parents to ask. Very uncomfortable. But it's really important that you just come out and say it that way," Feltz said.

School professionals say it's also important to listen to your kids and encourage them to share information with you.

"Validate their feelings, empathize with them and understand that what they're feeling. Even if you think it's something that's not that big of a deal what they're feeling is real and feels enormous," Sun Prairie School Social Worker Stephanie Ramer said.

Ramer and Feltz say they encourage parents to reach out to their child's school if they know or suspect that their child might be dealing with mental illness. They say schools have resources to get kids treatment and the training to help them work through mental health issues.

Get more information on how to talk to your teens or loved ones about suicide and access resources for depression or other mental illnesses.

To access the link the Sun Prairie School District gave parents on facts about teen suicide and suicide warning signs, click here

For more information and to access the national suicide prevention hotline click here

From the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Dane County:
For more information and resources on mental illness and recovery, click here

For information specifically related to children, youth and young adults, click here

If you or someone you know is in crisis, click here

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