The Wake County School system has sent a letter to parents warning them about the upcoming second season of the controversial Netflix teen drama "13 Reasons Why."
Season 1 of the series is about a teenager named Hannah who dies by suicide and leaves behind a chronicle of the reasons why people contributed to her decision to take her life. Both seasons are rated TV-MA, which means the show is meant for mature audiences and may be unsuitable for children under 17.
The letter from Wake Schools repeats a warning from The National Association of School Psychologists, which recommends that vulnerable young people — for example, those struggling with depression, previous suicidal behavior or trauma — not watch the first season. If they do watch, they should not watch alone, the letter states.
Season 2 of the drama, which lands on Netflix on May 18, is told from the perspective of characters from Season 1 who contributed to or were impacted by Hannah's actions.
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"13 Reasons Why" showrunner Brian Yorkey told Entertainment Weekly: "We made Season 1, we’re not going to make Season 1 again. This is Season 2 so it’s going to be different. ... We are going to try to continue to tell the stories of these characters, have them encounter issues and themes that are relevant to young people today and to do it as truthfully as we could."
The series is based on the 2007 book by Jay Asher, "Thirteen Reasons Why." There have been efforts to ban the book in several school systems — not Wake County — since it was published.
“Kids are watching it, whether or not they should,” Nicole Heilbron, co-chief of the Division of Child and Family Mental Health & Developmental Neuroscience at Duke University, told The N&O at the time. Heilbron said that it's good for teenagers to talk about suicide and that parents and school leaders shouldn’t avoid the topic.
"This is an opportunity for really opening a conversation," she said.
Even if Season 2 doesn't deal explicitly with another suicide, the Wake letter expresses concern that kids will start watching or re-watching Season 1 now so that they can be caught up for the Season 2 premiere. The letter commends the show's willingness to tackle topics important to youth, such as bullying, assault, rape and suicide, but it is critical of the way in which the show handles those topics.
"Aspects of the miniseries have gone against the recommendations of mental health professionals and suicide prevention models," the letter reads in part. "After reviewing Season 1, our WCPSS mental health professionals recommend students not watch the series. Having not previewed the second season, we do not know if Netflix followed recommendations from mental health professionals to responsibly address these extremely sensitive topics. If your student is going to or has already watched either season, we encourage you to watch it together and discuss your reactions to the issues raised in the series."
Netflix says the show "seeks to highlight how the behaviors we show others and that are shown to us can be very impactful, the importance of having empathy and compassion for others, even when their struggles aren’t obvious, and that everyone matters to many, even when it doesn’t feel that way."
The network has published an updated discussion guide to help viewers watch the show.
The Wake school system has a suicide prevention program called Signs of Suicide in place in middle and high schools. Their staff, they say, is also trained to work daily to identify and assist students who show signs of depression, self-harm, thoughts of suicide or mental health concerns.
Here are more resources for suicide prevention:
▪ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For the service in Spanish, call 888-628-9454. You can also text "START" to 741741. More info here: suicidepreventionlifeline.org
▪ American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: afsp.org
▪ National Association of School Psychologists has information on the show: “13 Reasons Why” Netflix Series (Season 1): Considerations for Educators and Families
▪ Netflix has information on suicide prevention: 13reasonswhy.info
▪ Netflix discussion guide for watching "13 Reasons Why" includes tips on watching or rewatching Season 1 and advice on how to start a conversation with someone who may need help.