WASHINGTON, D.C. — Season two of “13 Reasons Why,” a popular Netflix series portraying, among other things, suicide, sexual assault and substance abuse, might lead some young people to behave in dangerous and self-destructive ways, according to a May 31 open letter by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.
However, the NCPD said it also sees the chance to bring some good out of the situation: Adults could use the release of season two to begin serious conversations with young people about the dejecting matters the show presents.
The letter takes Christ’s love, which “is present in all things, including mental illness and suicide,” as the foundation for responding to “13 Reasons Why” and its audience.
This love can be put into action by bringing it to those who feel unloved, it said. For those who have mental illnesses, or are suffering psychologically or spiritually in other ways, this love takes the form of accompaniment, prayer and help carrying their burdens.
For those who have died by suicide, this love is made manifest through the prayers of the church that God may grant all the dead, even those who took their own lives, eternal rest and perpetual light, said the letter, which is addressed to “all Catholic faithful.”
The NCPD encouraged adults, especially those who have connections to young people, to fight back against one of the themes of “13 Reasons Why” — that adults fail to help young people in crisis, and so young people must struggle through all their problems on their own.
“It is crucial that we let the youth know that they are loved and that they are not alone,” the letter said.
The NPCD addresses the concern that, just like “13 Reasons Why” has led to an increase in internet searches for “suicide” and a number of copycat suicide attempts, having discussions about suicide with young people will lead to an increase in the number of suicide attempts.
To refute this line of thinking, the letter refers to studies which show that “talking about suicide does not increase suicide attempts, but, rather, encouraging dialogue makes people feel safe in talking about issues which lead them to despair.”
A number of resources are provided for people to use in ministering to and working with young people, some of which are Catholic and some secular.
Among the Catholic resources cited are a webinar conducted by Roy Petitfils, who for more than 20 years has worked with teenagers as an educator, youth minister and now as a counselor in private practice, as well as some videos and blog posts by Life Teen. Secular resources include material by the American Psychiatric Association concerning “13 Reasons Why” and the phone numbers of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255 and the National Crisis Text line (Text Home to 741741).
The final word in the letter comes from St. John Paul II: “It is everyone’s duty to make an active response; our actions must show that mental illness does not create insurmountable distances, nor prevent relations of true Christian charity.”