The problem with the adults in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

Just like so many teenagers out there, I found myself hooked on the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why from the first episode. The only difference is that I am not a teenager, but a physician practicing child and adolescent psychiatry and managing inpatient child and adolescent psychiatric units for the last nine years. I was surprised to see the number of emergency room evaluations of my admitted patients indicating that they had recently watched 13 Reasons Why. I am by no means implying a causal relationship between watching 13 Reasons Why and presenting with suicidal ideation or self-injury to the emergency room, but merely trying to highlight the possible effects of such an emotionally charged show on vulnerable adolescents.

Many of the adolescents I encounter have mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorders or a multitude of adjustment problems along with experiencing horrific trauma in their lives. I also cannot overlook the verbal, physical or cyberbullying, social isolation, marginalization and disenfranchisement that many of them have experienced. At times I have met a young person that I walked away from wondering if there is anything else that can possibly go wrong in their lives? The show’s greatest appeals that I see for teenagers is exactly that, the relatability which makes the show emotionally accessible for them and gives them characters they can find some grounds to identify with.

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