Netflix Series ’13 Reasons Why’ Creates Conversation and Controversy

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Conversation continues to swirl around a popular Netflix series, raising both awareness and concern surrounding the issue of teen suicide.

Based off the novel Thirteen Reasons Why, the show with the same title details reasons why a high school girl decided to take her own life. Last week, a teenager from Winterset committed suicide after his parents say he struggled with mental illness. The school district sent an email to parents alerting them of the student's death and of the show's content. Other districts within the metro area have also sent emails to parents and staff members addressing their concern of the show glamorizing suicide and portraying an unhealthy message about the topic.

The nonprofit organization Please Pass the Love provides training to schools about the issue of youth mental health. Its executive director says the series doesn't talk about the mental health component issue that often comes before suicide.

"One thing we often forget is that suicide is the crisis. It's the 'Z' in the alphabet, but there is A through Y that are all types of mental health things," says Jen Ulie-Wells.

Ulie-Wells says school districts are doing the right thing by alerting parents about the Netflix series, but says districts should also provide parents information about the warning signing of mental illness and suicide. She adds parents should not keep their teenage children from watching the show; instead, they should watch it with them and discuss the show's content.

Despite the show creating an avenue for dialogue, Ulie-Wells says it missed an opportunity to continue the conversation.

"There are a lot of great pieces to it, but there is nothing at the end of each episode saying where to go and get help. They could really be infusing some discussion pieces within, but because they're not, its left up to the general public to help put those pieces in."

From the classroom to the pulpit, the show is making its mark on everyone in between. The show is the latest topic in youth pastor Tim Kightlinger's 13-week sermon series at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. It's also one that is personal.

"I was there. At one point I just didn't think my life was worth living anymore," he says.

Despite the show's raw and graphic nature, Kightlinger says there is a message of hope to be learned.

"There's a purpose. We all have a purpose here. We all have a reason, we all have meaning, we all have value and importance."

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