Erica Riba

Erica, LCSW, LMSW is a Clinical Social Worker and Senior Campus Advisor at The Jed Foundation. She assists a caseload of colleges towards improving systematic changes on campus and support schools with prioritizing goals for their strategic plans focused on improving mental health and substance use efforts and reducing suicide risk.

Why 13 Reasons Why Was a Thoughtful Mistake

Why 13 Reasons Why Was a Thoughtful Mistake



I understand why the “13 Reasons Why” book was turned into a series. It was created for high-school students to see some part of themselves or peers on screen. It was created to highlight the impacts of bullying and how real and detrimental it can be both for the victim and the bully. It was created to send the message that suicide happens and is real. It highlighted the impact of grief and how the loss of a young person can wreck a community. 


13 Reasons Why saved a person’s life.


Watching Hannah’s suicide in full helped some people recognize that suicide is not the answer for them and that they can find help, hope, and resources. There is a reason to stay alive. There were viewers who are sexual-assault survivors who felt compelled to advocate for others who are struggling and who are also survivors of rape. 


You never know what kind of struggle someone is going through, and Hannah decided to share hers through a series of tapes. This behavior likely helped a viewer feel confident to share their story, their voice, and their struggles out loud with a friend, in therapy, in a journal, or even with a parent or family member. 


There were viewers who saw how a family is impacted after the loss of a child to suicide. Some people realized that they wouldn’t want to put someone through what Hannah’s parents dealt with after her death. 


This show led people to treatment or support. To some, this storytelling was an honest portrayal of distress in young people. So for some, this show normalized those feelings and prompted people to get help. 


This show definitely got us talking about suicide, rape, bullying, and how tragedy can impact a a whole town or community. When this became a Netflix show, it was the talk of town. Selena Gomez, one of the biggest celebrities in the world, who has openly struggled with mental health issues herself, produced 13RW so there was even more meaning behind it. Young people look up to her and wanted to support her and her message. In April 2017, it was reported that 13RW was the most tweeted about show of 2017 thus far. 


Some people were praising the show and some people were angry. 


This show was also a mistake (the book was fine as is - I read it!!)


The scene where Hannah ended her life was scary,  traumatizing, and painful to watch. It was so detailed, it gave people ideas of how they might do something similar. This is what experts and clinicians were concerned about when it was released!


The show follows a series of 13 tapes directed at Hannah’s peers explaining why their actions led to her suicide. It’s very rare that a single moment or interpersonal mishaps can result in suicide. We didn’t know other things about Hannah, specifically related to trauma, PTSD, and depression. What else was going on with her? We as viewers didn’t get all the information. 


In a month after 13 Reasons Why debut on Netflix, a study found teen suicide increased. ““In the analysis, a team led by Jeffrey A. Bridge, of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, analyzed suicide data from the Center for Disease Control between January 2013 and December 2017. After correcting for trends and seasonal effects, the team found that rates did not exceed expected levels in 2017 for people over age 18. But among those aged 10 to 17, the rate jumped nearly 30 percent in April 2017, and remained higher for the year. The study estimated that 195 more suicides occurred in 2017 in this age group than would be expected given current trends.” To learn more


Google searches about suicide — including “how to commit suicide” — spiked after the show’s release, which experts were worried about because how relatable the characters were and how the graphic depiction of suicide could post a risk for young people who were already struggling with mental health issues prior to watching.


The first season avoided messaging and communication around the encouragement of help-seeing - that in fact reaching out for help actually works! 


The first season avoided sharing options for treatment.


13RW communicated that suicide is the only option, which is false. Even though some youth might believe what they see on TV is or feels like real life, it is important to remember that the outcomes from the series does not have to be you or your loved one’s outcome!


What I want you to know whether or not you have watched 13RW:

  1. There is help all around you! You Matter. 
  2. Suicide is complex. Watching a TV show does not cause suicide - there are likely other factors that contribute.  
  3. The Jed Foundation created helpful talking points and what viewers should consider when watching 13RW. Check them out here
  4. Young people are more likely to turn to their peers for support. Check out Seize the Awkward, a campaign developed in partnership with The Jed Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Ad Council. Seize the Awkward works to empower teens and young adults to reach out and help a friend who may be struggling with their mental health. You don’t have to know how to diagnose a friend to help. Just trust your gut and ask if they are okay!
  5. This show provided the opportunity to shape the conversation. I encourage you to share your prevention strategies. Connect with your community and share the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide, and encourage reporters, bloggers, citizen journalists, and public commentators to include contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in their coverage, as well as any state or local resources that may be available for teens and parents.
  6. Download JED’s student action card to take action to support emotional health! 
  7. Check out After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools, which helps schools prepare to respond appropriately should a tragedy occur in their school community. 
  8. SPRC has put together a list of resources people in a variety of roles respond to the series, including parents, school staff, community leaders, and members of the media.
  9. Check out this resource guide from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention which focuses on providing guidance on mental health and suicide prevention for viewers of the 13RY series.
  10. Netflix also filmed Beyond the Reasons as a tool to help parents and teens frame the conversation and encourage them to speak up and seek help.
  11. The Jed Foundation (JED) works to ensure prevention resources are shared with high schools and colleges across the country. There are many free resources and helpful tools for schools, staff, administrators, teachers, and students! 

If you or someone you know needs help immediately, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support:

  • Crisis Text Line: text “Hello” to 741741
  • The Lifeline: call 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: call 800-656-4673
  • More on how to Get Help Now

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