Hamilton crisis line sees spike in youth calls since 13 Reasons Why

Calls to a Hamilton crisis line have tripled since the Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why debuted in March, and local educators and health professionals fear the controversial show about suicide is sending the wrong message.

It's a busy time in youth mental health anyway, but many are mentioning the controversial Netflix series

A Hamilton crisis line says it's seen more calls since 13 Reasons Why premiered. (Beth Dubber/Netflix)

Calls to a Hamilton crisis line have tripled in recent months and those in the mental health field say some of that is caused by the Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why.

Authorities have fielded three times as many calls to COAST's crisis line since February, said Nicole Karki-Niejadlik, clinic director of the Lynwood Charlton Centre.

Not all those calls stem from the Netflix series. But many of the callers mention the show, Karki-Neijadlik said. 

Some of them are angered by it. For some, it sparks suicidal thoughts.

"Obviously, for some of them, it's been a trigger," said Karki-Niejadlik, who is also an assistant professor in McMaster University's School of Nursing.

13 Reasons Why touches on issues such as sexual assault and bullying. (Beth Dubber/Netflix)

Spring is already a tough time for youth, particularly around exams, she said. So February through April is busy anyway.

But 13 Reasons Why doesn't seem to help. Jennifer McTaggart, a clinical psychologist at McMaster University's child and youth mental health inpatient unit, says over the last "three or four weeks," more youth have mentioned the show. Deborah McGrath, manager of COAST, also reports an increase.

It's frustrating for local workers in youth mental health. The Netflix series presents like a list of things not to do if you want to prevent suicidal ideation, McTaggart said.

The main character, Hannah, is presented in glamourous detail. Her death scene is vivid and dramatic. She leaves behind 13 audiotapes detailing the events that contributed to her suicide, exacting revenge. People decorate her locker with flowers.

In short, "she's getting more quote-unquote attention than when she was alive,'" said Karki-Niejadlik.

The creators of 13 Reasons Why are already hinting at a second season. (Beth Dubber/Netflix)

"Right from the beginning, the very first episode, there's a locker done up with pictures and flowers and things she likes. We don't recommend a locker be memorialized like that."

Netflix has heeded some of the criticism leveled across the U.S. and Canada. The streaming service has added more warnings to the first episode of the 13-episode drama.

The warning has "strengthened the messaging and resource language in the existing cards for episodes that contain graphic subject matter," it said.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) issued a warning to parents about the show.

David Hoy, manager of social work services, doesn't have data around how many youth have mentioned it to counsellors.

But since the show debuted, he said, "I think I've talked about nothing but this show in the board.

'We do not want to contribute to this'

"Definitely, we've had lots of conversations. It's definitely come up from students in the schools. It's definitely come up with teachers."

Hoy said it's fine to like the show. And it's important to have conversations about some of the issues it broaches, such as suicide and bullying. But it doesn't help everyone.

"Incidents of self harm can increase after media portrayals of suicide," the board said in a letter to parents. "We do not want to contribute to this."

None of the agencies contacted say it's impacted their staffing or resources. Spring tends to be busier in the youth mental health field, McTaggart said. "We kind of ride this out."

Netflix has said the show will return for a second season.