The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” is setting off a discussion about suicide, sexual assault, bullying and mental health in high schools across the country, including in Montclair.

Andrew Evangelista is one of the school district’s mental health coordinators and anti-bullying coordinators. He emailed families in the district last week discussing some of the subject matter in the series, and the need for parents and teachers to be able to discuss some of the show’s themes with their children.

“13 Reasons Why” is based on the 2007 young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It follows a high school student named Clay Jensen, who comes into possession of a cache of audio tapes left behind by a classmate, Hannah Baker, who has committed suicide; the tapes appear in a box on Clay’s doorstep a few days after Hannah’s death. The tapes contain recordings of Hannah explaining the reasons why she decided to end her life. Each of the 13 recordings is addressed to a specific person in Hannah’s life.

The novel has topped The New York Times bestseller list. The Netflix series began airing in March, and has consistently received high ratings.

Evangelista said he sent the email to parents not because of any incident that happened in Montclair. Rather, he said, it was to start a discussion about the subject of teen suicide.

“I watched the entire series, and thought it would be a good idea to let the administration, principals and counselors know, to get a head start and give them the talking points to handle questions and if the kids are emotional, at-risk kids or vulnerable,” Evangelista said last week.

“With social media, I figured this would catch on quickly. It definitely took off; with all the publicity, this may draw more kids to watching it. So, the parents really needed a heads-up. It’s important to listen and talk about the topics raised, especially the ones that were not raised: mental health and teen resources.”

Sarah Lowe, an assistant professor of psychology at Montclair State University, runs a research lab on campus. She had heard some of her students talking about the show and the potential traumatic impact on people who have lost someone to suicide or who may have attempted it themselves. The discussion among the students also turned to some of the controversy surrounding the show.

“It seems like a lot of the controversy is around a number of issues,” Lowe said on Monday.
One of Lowe’s concerns involves some of the flashbacks, which involve scenes such as a rape, or cutting. It was Lowe’s understanding that some of these scenes were depicted in rather vivid detail.

Another concern is whether the show accurately depicts mental illness and the factors associated with it.
However, she said, one effect of the show was that it is getting people to talk about some of the subject matter.

“I think that there shouldn’t be silence around the issues that were depicted in the show,” Lowe said.

The show’s popularity has prompted discussions of suicide and mental health in school districts across the country.

The National Association of School Psychologists posted a warning on its website advising against allowing students who are emotionally vulnerable or potentially at risk of suicide to watch the show.

The association has also released lists of tips for teachers, administrators and parents on addressing the subject of suicide with students, when to report an at-risk student to the proper authorities or how to work with students in the wake of a classmate’s suicide.

The official Penguin Random House website for the novel has links for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is also reachable at 800-273-TALK. There is a separate page on the site with resources on crisis counseling and suicide prevention. The Netflix site for the show also includes links to suicide prevention resources.