School councillors have reported an increased number of children talking to them about mental health after the success of Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, but experts have warned guardians not to let them watch the show alone.
The show focuses on the events that lead to the suicide of a teenager, Hannah Baker, and delves into themes of bullying, abuse, assault and depression. The show has a rating of 16 and over but it is thought that it is being watched by children as young as 11 in the UAE.
Children mature emotionally and socially at different rates and parents should judge what is appropriate for their child, said Nicola Peacock, school counsellor at West Yas Academy.
“If parents decide to let their children watch the show, doing it together can provide an opportunity for parents to talk with their children and listen to their worries and concerns,” Ms Peacock said.
Season one of the show was released last year and in the US, a study published in Jama Internal Medicine revealed that in the two weeks after there was a 19 per cent increase in searches for topics related to suicide.
Season two was released last month and has been hugely popular in the UAE.
“I’ve had children come in to talk about the show and about self-harming on the show,” said Carolyn Yaffe, a behavioural therapist at Camali Clinic. “It’s really concerning for me. I actually had one person say to me, ‘Hannah Baker is my hero’.”
School counsellors said cyber bullying is one of the biggest threats to the mental health of schoolchildren.
“Bullying is a huge cause of suicidal thoughts,” Ms Yaffe said. “Schools here are extremely competitive environments academically and socially and I think that’s a tremendous contributing factor to depression.
“For the majority of the children I see, school is a big factor in their depression and anxiety.”
Ross Addison, a behavioural psychotherapist at the LightHouse Centre for Wellbeing, believes the show has provided a much-needed excuse to discuss mental health and helps to reduce the stigma around it.
“Depression, bullying, suicide and abuse are all things people experience. Young people feel relieved to know that they are not alone,” said Mr Addison.
“At any point, my caseload has 30 to 40 per cent of 8-18-year-olds that are experiencing symptoms of depression. These are things we should be talking about. Depression should not be brushed under the carpet," said Mr Addison.
“Even just asking them their thoughts on the show will open up a conversation about it.”
Ross Barfoot, the father of Louis Smith, who committed suicide in 2014, believes that anything that generates discussion on mental health, depression and suicide, in adolescents is good.
"I do know people who watched the show deliberately with their 14 or 15-year-olds and made it clear from the outset that the children can discuss anything they want with them. These shows, as long as they are treating the themes in a right way, can be useful,” he said.
Symptoms of depression in teens include social isolation, withdrawing from after-school activities, neglecting friendships, sleep disturbance, mood swings, only staying in their bedrooms, being irritable and fatigue or loss of energy.