The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” tells the story of a high school student who commits suicide, and the 13 tapes she leaves behind to explain her motivation. Since its release in March, the show has received a wide range of kudos and criticisms—kudos for raising awareness about teen suicide and criticisms, rightly, for glamorizing suicide.

As a psychiatrist who works with teens I think the series is making a positive contribution toward destigmatizing a topic over which we can no longer afford to keep silent.  Thousands, if not millions, of children and young adults suffer every day with suicidal thoughts.  If this television series brings these truths out of the shadows and opens lines of honest communication between young people and those who care about them, I’m all for it.

Children and their parents often have significantly different reactions to suicide. When I ask teens about their suicidal thoughts, I often get a look of guilty relief. Parents have a different reaction. A question of whether their child has been suicidal can lead to tears, anger, and defensiveness.

Both responses are natural, human reactions to a painful and stigmatized subject. But as a society, we ought to seize the opportunity “13 Reasons Why” provides to talk about suicide. We can start by admitting that it happens.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “thousands of teens commit suicide each year in the United States. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds.”

Parents, children, and mental health providers should freely ask questions and discuss the topic with neither judgment nor shame. Perhaps even more important is adults’ ability to hear teens’ responses about where suicidal thoughts originate, and what drives them.

Read the full article about destigmatizing suicide by Takesha Cooper at Edsource.