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'13 Reasons Why' prompts mental health conversation with 2nd season release

Last Updated May 18, 2018 at 11:43 pm EDT

It’s a popular show amongst teenagers that covers some heavy topics, everything from suicide to sexual assault. The second season of “13 Reasons Why” launched on Netflix on Friday, bringing mental health back into the spotlight.

Experts are reminding viewers that although the characters and their stories are fictional, the issues are real.

“There’s all kind of debate, is it good or bad, so people come in and talk about it or maybe it prompted them to come in for help so I think that’s a good thing,” said Dr. Tom Ungar, Psychiatrist in Chief at St. Michael’s Hospital. “But some people are a little uncomfortable because maybe they portray the stuff a little bit too dramatically, or romantically or incorrectly, like a solution to problems.”

The show follows a group of high school students who learn why one of their classmates, Hannah, died by suicide. The stories are mostly told from the perspective of the teens, and the show has been criticized in the past for over-simplifying the issues.

“It’s a difficult visual medium to depict mental illness because of the challenge where there is usually anything to be seen overtly by the outside,” said Dr. Jose Silveira, Chief of Psychiatry at St. Joseph’s Health Centre.

Psychiatrists from both St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital held a panel discussion about the show and the impacts it’s had, saying it has led to more people speaking out about mental health, and also more people seeking help.

“We’ve had an unprecedented number of people reach out for assistance, families, teens, and that’s a positive,” said Dr. Jose Silveira, Chief of Psychiatry at St. Joseph’s Health Centre. “What would be great if we did this more often and people had dialogue earlier.”

Though more people are asking for assistance, experts say they aren’t doing it immediately. Dr. Silveira added that the majority suffer silently and don’t seek help until they end up in the emergency room.

“For those of us in general hospitals and emergency departments particularly, the numbers have been quite striking in the last few years in terms of increase,” said Dr. Silveira.

Netflix has issued disclaimers at the start of the season of “13 Reasons Why,” warning viewers of the serious content in the show.

A website was also launched recently, highlighting of the issues discussed during the season, which include suicide and bullying.

This week, Peel District School Board sent a letter home to parents about the return of the show, stating there are resources available to students who need them.

The school board also encourages parents to have a conversation with their children about the show, offering a list of topics to cover, including a discussion on the show’s “unrealistic elements.”

Both doctors say there needs to be more conversations around mental health that particularly touch on the importance of early intervention and treatment.

“Don’t be scared to ask about suicide or talk about it because it actually increases the likelihood of people going for help and lowers the likelihood they’ll do it,” said Dr. Ungar. “The ultimate answer is it’s not sensational, help is available and it’s a health condition that you can do something about. So that’s what’s really been a big addition from the show to the conversation.”

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