13 Reasons Why … Like it or not, we need to talk about it!

Over the past few days I’ve been receiving many calls and emails from friends, parents, teachers, a ‘Media Specialist for a school’s library’ and family health teams in regards to the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why.’ (13RW) Everyone contacting me has been looking for resources for how to talk about suicide and 13RW with their children and their students.

The conversations are everything we need them to be. We’re not talking about suicide because someone has died, not in real life anyway. We’re talking about suicide because we realize that it could happen to someone we love and we want to be able to do something about it. This is personal. It’s about my kids. It’s about my students. It’s about my community.

This is where the dialogue on suicide needs to be. It get’s real because it’s no longer someone else’s family, someone else’s classroom, someone else’s school.

As you read this, is there something inside of you that feels icky and uncomfortable? Are your inclined to want to make it all just go away? Acknowledge that feeling. Don’t squash it away with ignorance. There are things you can do about it. Keep reading.

I will certainly add my voice to the many organizations and professionals who are deeply concerned about suicide contagion and how this film could lead to an increase in suicides. The evidence over the past thirty years backs up the fact that suicide contagion is real. I will also express my concern that media guidelines put out by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) and the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) have been largely ignored by the creators of ’13 Reasons Why’. If you are in the media, film or marketing industries, please contact either of these organizations for advice before you publish your material on suicide.

For me, what could have been done differently (with the film) is for another day. Right now, I want to focus on; “what are we going to do?”, “as a parent, how do I talk to my kids about this?”, “as a teacher, what can I do to help my students?”

I believe we finally have an opportunity to accept the dialogue on suicide as a matter of community health. It can’t wait for another day. Not only do we need to talk about suicide today, we can prevent suicide today.

Since getting calls and emails from different people about the 13RW I first went to my greatest resource, my sons (18 and 20 years old) and their friends. 100% of them have seen the 13RW and/or read the book and they all quickly became engaged in a conversation when asked.

My next stop was at one of my best friends house. Lucky for me, he and his wife were not home but his two daughters (13 and 15 years old) were. I asked them if they had seen ’13 Reasons Why’ and as soon as I did, they both sat down completely prepared to talk about it. They wanted to talk about it. Now these two amazing young women also have talked about the book and film with their mom and dad, like most things in their home, it’s an open dialogue.

Then I went to Chapters (our local bookstore) to pick up a copy of the book. When I was at the shelf for about two minutes, three young people also picked up 13RW. Coincidental? I was curious. When I got to the counter to pay for my book I asked the cashier for her thoughts on it. She said, “we can’t keep it in stock!” I told her that I worked in suicide prevention. She too was relatively young and said, “I wish it would have came out when I was in high school. I needed to talk about this stuff but neither my parents or teachers would let me.”

At this point, 100% of the young people that I’ve spoken to have not only watched the 13RW but they are also enthusiastic about engaging in a dialogue on it. I’m intrigued by the depth of conversation on suicide and the issues that are arising from 13RW.

From the conversations over the past few days, I want to offer some suggestions. As adults, we are looking for tools to know how to talk about suicide with our children and students. Perhaps it’s not tools to talk but rather tools to listen.

Listening without judgement, blame or shame. Allow young people’s thoughts and feelings of 13RW to be what they are. Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Talk to your kids’ friends parents about the film series. Perhaps consider having a few families come together to talk about it. Kind of like a 13RW book/film club. Also see the lesson plan below as a guide. I think it will be helpful.


For now, here are four things that you can consider to help you talk with young people about 13RW.

1) It’s out and we need to talk about it.
An article written by Andre Picard of the Globe and Mail. “Those calling for teens to be prohibited or otherwise dissuaded from watching the show have missed the boat. They’ve already seen it and, if not, the outpouring of adult angst will only make them more likely to do so”

2) A Lesson Plan with resources, created by the Centre for Suicide Prevention (Calgary). There is a lot to learn here that goes well beyond 13RW.
‘Thirteen Reasons Why Lesson Plan’;  https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/thirteen-reasons-why-lesson-plan/

3) A statement by Canadian Mental Health Association. The Collateral Damage Project joins with CMHA in raising concerns about ’13 Reasons Why’.http://www.cmha.ca/news/cmha-national-statement-responding-netflix-series-13-reasons/#.WQcaLVPyvUI

4) safeTALK. Please take safeTALK.  http://leftbehindbysuicide.org/safetalk-training/
One of our core mandates at the Collateral Damage Project is to advocate for everyone to take safeTALK training. We believe all teachers, parents, first responders….everyone should be trained in safeTALK as a starting point to understand how to safely talk about suicide. If you are interested in learning more about having all of your teachers trained in safeTALK please contact me.

“SafeTALK is a half-day alertness training that prepares anyone over the age of 15, regardless of prior experience or training, to become a suicide-alert helper. Most people with thoughts of suicide don’t truly want to die, but are struggling with the pain in their lives. Through their words and actions, they invite help to stay alive. safeTALK-trained helpers can recognize these invitations and take action by connecting them with life-saving intervention resources.”

For information on safeTALK; http://leftbehindbysuicide.org/safetalk-training/


When I lost my Dad to suicide in 1982 I didn’t know where to turn to. I felt I had no one to talk to. It’s my hope and belief that the dialogue on and around 13RW will create the pro-active dialogue on suicide that we, young and old alike, need so badly.

Not talking about it isn’t working. Join us as we begin the dialogue.


Scott Chisholm
Founder & CEO of Left Behind by Suicide & the Collateral Damage project.


13 Reasons Why Talking Points


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.