Ottawa

Ottawa Catholic School Board leery of new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why

It's one of the hottest new shows on Netflix, but the chief psychologist with the Ottawa Catholic School Board is concerned about how 13 Reasons Why portrays suicide, and she's urging parents to talk to teens about it.

Show's portrayal of suicide 'not a reality,' says OCSB chief psychologist

13 Reasons Why is a popular and controversial new Netflix series about suicide. (Netflix)

It's one of the hottest new shows on Netflix, but the chief psychologist with the Ottawa Catholic School Board is concerned about how 13 Reasons Why portrays suicide, and she's urging parents to talk to teens about it.

The show tells the story of a 17-year-old girl named Hannah who takes her own life. Before she dies, she sends audiotapes to the people she holds responsible.

While 13 Reasons Why is wildly popular and easily accessible to many high school students, Ottawa Catholic School Board chief psychologist and mental health lead Dr. Elizabeth Paquette doesn't recommend schools use it as a teaching tool when it comes to suicide.

"When we talk about it as a teaching tool, what we're thinking is that teachers might assign it as a lesson. So go home, watch Episode 2 or 3 tonight, and we're going to talk about it in class tomorrow. And we don't want teachers doing that," Paquette told host Hallie Cotnam on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"In a classroom, there's always going to be some vulnerable students, and it's always those students that are our concern in the mental health field," she added. "And so we don't want students who might be really upset, triggered by the content of the episodes to feel they have watch it as part of a lesson."

OCSB letter advised against show

OCSB officials sent a letter to teachers recommending against using the Netflix series as a teaching tool. Paquette is worried students may be upset that the series is "glamourizing" suicide, and that "there is no message of hope, there's no message of help-seeking behaviour that we want to encourage in youth."

Elizabeth Paquette is the chief psychologist and mental health lead for the Ottawa Catholic School Board. (CBC)
While she hasn't received any direct complaints from parents about the show, she's urging them to have conversations with their kids about the help they can get if they're struggling with mental health issues and thinking about suicide.

"Talking to them about where they would go for help, how are they feeling, giving them some of the community resources as contact information," said Paquette.

She believes it's also important for parents to stress that a fictional show isn't always an accurate reflection of suicide. 

"Giving them some of those messages about well you realize it's fictional, that that's not really the way things are going to unfold, suicide is permanent, it's not like you can come back," she added.

"So in the show it gives very much that impression that Hannah can come back and influence people's lives afterwards. And that's not a reality."

Help available

Paquette wants to remind students that there are resources in schools for students who may need to talk through difficult times. 

"If they are feeling upset or having any negative reaction, that they need to talk somebody — a trusted adult, whether it be parents, somebody at school, a coach, a teacher, anybody that they can trust. And always that there is hope, and that there's always help available."

The Ottawa Distress Centre has a 24-hour crisis line specifically for young people who are struggling. The number is 613-260-2360.

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