Dear Mr. Hastings,

As representatives of Canada’s national mental health and suicide prevention organizations, we write to you collectively about our concerns about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and our interest in potential opportunities for collaboration with Netflix for any future productions related to suicide.

The series tackles some of society’s most complex mental health topics: adolescent suicide, bullying, problematic substance use, the objectification of young women, and violence against women. For the most part, the series handles these topics in an informed and multi-dimensional way.

However, we believe that the portrayal of suicide and mental illness within the series could be raised in a more safe, sensitive and responsible manner to avoid stigmatizing suicide and to encourage viewers to seek or offer help when needed. We encourage you to explore the Mindset: Reporting on Mental Health media guidelines as well as other guidelines established by the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention and the American Association of Suicidology.

Before the release of the second season of this series, we suggest some safe practices to ensure that future viewers receive helpful information and resources in the event that the content of the series causes any distress. We recommend including disclaimers and supportive messaging at the beginning of each episode, and particularly before episodes containing graphic content, about the importance of reaching out for help and where to find it, as well as to encourage family viewers to watch the series together and discuss its content.

We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss a knowledge-sharing partnership with Netflix in which our collective expertise can be used to ensure that the important messages in 13 Reasons Why are delivered safely, responsibly, and effectively. Canada’s Centre for Suicide Prevention partnered with Penguin-Random House and Razorbill to develop informational bookmarks to go inside the novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher when it was re-released. The bookmark contains the 1-800 number for Kids Help Phone, a Canadian charity that provides counselling to youth 24/7, as well as a link to more information for youth at risk. Given the broader audience and greater possibilities afforded by the medium of Netflix, we believe that a similar partnership for the Netflix adaptation would have an immense impact on young Canadians and families.

We respectfully recommend that Netflix:

  • Strengthen the warning and ensure it appears at the beginning of every episode of 13 Reasons Why regardless of whether previous episodes have been viewed, stating that the series will discuss suicide and may be distressing for some viewers.
  • Add a message to the beginning and end of all episodes stressing the importance of reaching out for help in times of distress and providing a link to information for those in need, including the number for Kids Help Phone in Canada.
  • Consult with mental health professionals with specific expertise in suicide prevention in the creation and development of future episodes and future series that address similar themes, prior to commencing filming. We would be pleased to collaborate and support you in these efforts.
  • Ensure actors are briefed on suicide safe messaging practices and language to be used in interviews such as using the phrase “died by suicide” rather than “commit suicide,” which implies that suicide is a crime and perpetuates the stigma surrounding suicide.
  • Balance the messaging in episodes with messages of hope and resilience.
  • Donate a portion of profits from the series to support suicide prevention efforts in Canada (and other countries where the series airs), in recognition of the need for increased capacity among agencies supporting those youth at risk.

Suicide is a global health crisis. Through broadcasts of 13 Reasons Why, there is a tremendous opportunity to raise public awareness around suicide and to reach many at-risk youth. In communicating about suicide, we all have a responsibility to ensure we do no harm. The foregoing recommendations demonstrate how a partnership with Canada’s mental health and addiction community may help in meeting that responsibility, both for 13 Reasons Why and in other projects such as To The Bone. We would welcome any opportunity for collaboration in providing options for safe messaging around suicide and other mental health and addiction issues moving forward.

Sincerely,

Louise Bradley
President and Chief Executive Officer
Mental Health Commission of Canada

Mara Grunau
Executive Director
Centre for Suicide Prevention

Dr. Sidney Kennedy
Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide and Depression Studies
University of Toronto-St. Michael's Hospital

Wendy Preskow
Founder/President
National Initiative for Eating Disorders

Dr. Patrick Smith
Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Mental Health Association, National

Alison Caird
Board President
Crisis Services Canada

Karen Letofsky
Board President
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Susan Morris
Interim President & Chief Executive Officer
Kids Help Phone

Rita Notarandrea
Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Dr. Karen Cohen
Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Psychological Association

 

netflixs statement logos