Melbourne Girls Grammar said many students wanted to speak to teachers about the series. (Facebook: Netflix)
Schools are warning parents the latest season of a popular Netflix series that focuses on teen suicide and sexual assault could be harmful to their children.
The series 13 Reasons Why, based on the best-selling novel by Jay Asher, tells the story of a high school student who dies by suicide and leaves behind details of the reasons why she took her life.
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The second season launched in Australia this month and sparked concerns it was once again promoting inappropriate messages and imagery to young people.
One particular sexual assault scene has been described as graphic and confronting.
A number of schools around Australia have responded by sending letters to parents and guardians, warning of the dark content and encouraging them to have an open conversation with their children about themes of the show, including bullying, suicide, sexual violence, drugs, and mental illness.
The show has also prompted a range of mental health support agencies to distribute guidelines and material to schools and parents, to help guide conversations with young people.
Melbourne Girls Grammar is just one of many schools in Australia that have written to parents warning of the serious nature of the content.
Principal Catherine Miffon said the first season left many of the students wanting to speak with staff about what they had watched.
“We see the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why as potentially posing an impact to student wellbeing, so those letters [to parents] represent a proactive, collaborative approach with our families,” she said.
The school said it encouraged conversations about the show and as a result needed to have support in place when students were confronted with such serious issues.
“We also share with our staff that type of supportive advice so we’re all on the same page — the staff, the parents, and the girls— in terms of being able to have conversations that can assist a young person if they need it.”
Encourage young people to seek support: Headspace
Headspace, the national youth mental health foundation, said it had concerns about the way the series depicted suicide and mental health.
Those worries included painting suicide as a reasonable option, portraying adults as incapable or unwilling to help, placing blame and guilt on others who may already be vulnerable, and failing to demonstrate the permanence of suicide.
The organisation raised concerns when the first series was released last year.
Headspace said it collaborated with Netflix ahead of the release of the second season in a bid to create safe and informative resources for young people, parents and schools.
The material provides advice on how to best support young people watching the series, like watching with a support person, knowing where to access professional support, and even restricting access.
The head of clinical practice at Headspace, Vikki Ryall, said people’s reactions would vary.
“The likelihood that the content will be distressing or triggering for some viewers will depend on their individual life experiences and current circumstances,” she said.
“No two people will take exactly the same meaning or understanding out of the same episode.
“By providing young people with tips on how to watch the show safely and ensuring they know how to seek help we can ensure distressed viewers can be supported.”
Netflix has included warnings and help-seeking information before and at the end of each episode for season two, and has a designated webpage that provides support resources.
Nick Duigan, the senior clinical advisor to headspace, said this show could mark the beginning of a closer collaboration with the streaming services.
He said they were unprepared for the reaction after the first series.
“This may be a start of a changing of the guard almost, in that online streaming of shows is becoming more popular and it may become more important for us to look more proactively at shows like this in the future, in addition to supporting print and traditional TV,” he said.
“For young people who are already vulnerable, if they view this series unprepared, or potentially even when they are prepared, it has the potential to increase their risk. So that’s why we’re concerned.”