Let’s Discuss “13 Reasons Why”

It is children’s mental health awareness week and I have been asked what I think about the Netflix Series, “13 Reasons Why.” I cannot tell you how grateful I was to receive this email from our school district that my own children attend. As a mother and a child psychiatrist I am sharing this with all of you as I think it is well written and offers great tips, tools and more as to how you can be a “present parent” in engaging your children in important discussions about this show, other “mature audience” shows, their use of social media and more!

Here is the email I received this morning:

Dear MBUSD Community:

By now you’ve probably heard about the new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why (13RW), based on the popular book by Jay Asher. In the story, a group of high school students attempt to piece together a story left behind by their classmate, who died by suicide.

The series is rated TV-MA, for mature audiences only, which means that it may not be appropriate for children under 17 because of crude indecent language, explicit sexual activity, or graphic violence. While the series does attempt to bring up important topics, it goes against the recommendations of many mental health providers and suicide prevention models. There are real concerns that the series potentially glamorizes suicide and does not offer crucial  information regarding mental illness and available support. 

Many of our students are watching the series, and while we are not making recommendations about the show itself, we know that families will of course make their own decisions . If you decide  to allow your children to watch it, we strongly encourage you to watch it with them and engage in conversation about the sensitive and emotional topics that it raises (in addition to suicide, these topics include teen drinking, bullying, sexting, rape, etc.). One of our parent education partners is Common Sense Media. They provide excellent guidance for parents on many media pieces, and they do have recommendations about this series. Their recommendations can be found here.

We take all threats of self-harm seriously. If a student makes any kind of threat of self-harm, we will take appropriate next steps , including risk screening and contacting parents and guardians . We never want our students to feel that suicide is a solution. We also want to make sure that parents and guardians know what to watch for; you can read more about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicidal behavior here. 
These are difficult topics to discuss with your children. Specific talking points for discussing 13 Reasons Why can be found here

If you need more information or support, please feel to reach out to your school’s support staff or me.


Assistant Superintendent, Student Services
Manhattan Beach Unified School District

I emailed MBUSD to say thank you for this and to say, “Well done.” It is OUR responsibility as parents, teachers, doctors and adult role models to help our children thrive and to engage in their lives.

As an adult and child psychiatrist I have been on the mental health front lines battling mental illness crisis’ now for over 20 years. Since last December I have had 9 suicidal referrals to my practice and 7 individuals are under age 18 who are now safe and are in recovery. This is a higher than average amount in my practice and I believe the level of fear, anger and hatred on social media, in the news, and in our discussions is contributing to OUR societal mental health emergency.

I strongly feel as a society we can focus on prevention and reducing the stigma and shame around mental health issues. I posted an article, “The Reality of Suicide” last month and my article on “Cyberbullying Takes Lives” reached >40,OOO people.

WE as a society need to come together and decide to set examples for our youth and for each other that OUR collective mental health and wellbeing is a top priority! I am so happy that Lady Gaga, the Royal family and other celebrities and athletes are talking about mental wellness and encouraging OUR youth to speak out and get help.

All of you that are “MENTAL HEALTH WARRIORS” are making a difference and I thank you for your posts, shares, and messages! It is team “WE” and I know that we are shifting and changing the way WE think, talk and act about mental health!

With gratitude,

Dr. Denise
Denise McDermott M.D.

For more tips, tools and more about mental health, check out my ebook!