13 Reasons Why sparks teen suicide debate in Idaho

Posted at 8:22 PM, May 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 22:29:11-04

A graphic new Netflix show is targeting teenagers and trending on Twitter.

“13 Reasons Why” is dark and raw. It's the story of a high school girl who takes her own life. She leaves behind audio recordings for 13 people who she says were part of the reason why she committed suicide.

Kari Carpenter and her teenage daughters say they binge watched all 13 episodes in just two days. “A lot of the kids at my school think it’s really relatable to kids,” said 15 year old Taryn. “It was very well done. It was very uncomfortable to watch, but I think that was the point,” said her mom Kari

The hit show is hitting nerves with suicide prevention experts. They worry its potentially dangerous for teenagers who could see a romanticized portrayal of suicide. Suicide is already the second leading cause of death among Idaho teens and health experts say the Hollywood portrayal could spark copycat behavior. “Of course there are some things that are unsafe about the series. So we want kids who are struggling to know they've got people to reach out to," insists Kim Kane who manages the state’s suicide prevention program.

One of the fastest ways to get help is Idaho's suicide prevention hotline. Volunteers are trained and ready to answer any questions about the show or to just listen to how people feel while watching it. Local school districts are on alert too.  Counselors, social workers and nurses in both Boise and West Ada are arming staff with information, including webinar trainings on suicide prevention.

Just last week Netflix issued a response to growing criticism that the series exploits a vulnerable age group. To stem the backlash, Netflix is adding additional viewer warnings to the series. Kari thinks that's a good idea, but her girls say kids will just skip right past those on screen messages.

Yet, this Caldwell family says "13 Reasons Why" sparked some important conversations on difficult topics including rape and bullying. “I was like, I don't want you being the one to cause so much heartache. And if you are having that much heartache, I want a good enough relationship that you can talk to me," says Kari. Her girls see the show as having a direct message for students. “The little things you do can really effect people,” says 14 year old Katlyn.

Still Kari says she’s glad she watched the series with her girls. And that's the same advice from mental health experts when it comes to “13 Reasons Why.” They say know your child, know their limits, watch it with them and keep checking in even after the T.V. shuts off.

Additional Resources:

13 Reasons Why: Talking Points for Viewing and Discussing the Netflix Series

13 Reason Why: What Viewers Should Consider

13 Reason Why Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators

Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline  (208) 398-HELP [4357]