Controversial show 13 Reasons Why resonates with psychologist's teen clients

A prominent Halifax-area child psychologist says a new Netflix series centring on the suicide of a teen girl is an accurate depiction of issues facing teens today.

In 13 Reasons Why, central character Hannah Baker, played by actress Katherine Langford, kills herself after a series of traumas, and leaves audio tapes of herself behind that explain to her peers the reasons for her suicide.

"It's a very good depiction of a lot of issues that can lead up to suicide for kids," Kiran Pure told CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning. "I think the message of her tapes is that nobody did enough, that little things matter."

Other advocates worried about show's impact 

Pure practises child psychology in Dartmouth, N.S., and said many of the children and teens she sees in her practice are watching the show.

"The conversation has become daily where teens are saying it's very relatable," said Pure, who has watched the entire series herself. "That it's a sad truth — what they face every day. There are certainly some teens who don't relate to it, but the majority of the teenagers that ask the question in the clinic find it very relatable."

But some mental health advocates and educators have expressed concern over the messages in the show. 

Officials at the Ottawa Catholic School Board sent a letter to teachers recommending against using the Netflix series as a teaching tool.

"In a classroom, there's always going to be some vulnerable students, and it's always those students that are our concern in the mental health field," Ottawa Catholic School Board chief psychologist and mental health lead Dr. Elizabeth Paquette told CBC. 

"And so we don't want students who might be really upset, triggered by the content of the episodes to feel they have watch it as part of a lesson," she added.

Show relevant for teens, parents and society

Pure said those concerns with 13 Reasons Why are misplaced. 

"I don't think that it glorifies suicide," Pure said. "I think the message through the tapes that a lot of teens are getting is that they need to have a good look at what happens in their social-political, sexual-political world that they live in in high school." 

She agrees it would be helpful for parents to watch the program with their kids, in order to help them process the themes in the series. 

"There are parts of the show that are very difficult — and not just the explicit rape scenes — but just the subtlety of the bullying can be very difficult, especially if you are someone who's experienced it," Pure said.

She said the show is an opportunity for parents to start a difficult dialogue with their kids. 

"It's very important to ask, 'Do you see this happening? How often does this happen? Does it happen to you? Does it happen to somebody close to you?'" Pure said. "That's an important conversation to happen, not just with kids, but with also the adults who are around kids — teachers, principals, professionals like me, parents."