News / Toronto

Ontario Ministry of Education warns boards not to use Netflix's 13 Reasons Why in classroom

The Netflix show sensationalizes suicide, critics say.

The show is based on a young adult novel by Jay Asher.

Beth Dubber/Netflix

The show is based on a young adult novel by Jay Asher.

The Ontario Ministry of Education is warning teachers not to use Netflix’s new series 13 Reasons Why as a classroom tool because it is “graphic and potentially triggering for vulnerable young people.”

The 13-episode series tells the story of a teenage girl who dies by suicide and leaves behind a set of cassette tapes for people who bullied her listing reasons why. Critics say the show romanticizes suicide.

In a communication provided to Metro, the ministry provides guidance for teachers on how to deal with questions and concerns from students who have watched the show on their own.

“Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act,” it reads.

“The death by suicide depicted in the series (although fictional) is a cautionary tale, not meant to appear heroic and should be viewed as a tragedy.”

Ministry spokesperson Heather Irwin said the communication was sent from a mental health support team to superintendents across all school boards who are responsible for mental health and the school board mental health leaders.

The guidance offers teachers facts to “clarify misinformation in the series.”

It emphasizes that the death of a person by suicide is never the fault of survivors and memorializing someone who died by suicide is generally not a recommended practice at schools.

The document also instructs teachers to encourage talking openly about suicide and says school counsellors are not accurately portrayed in the show.

Toronto District School Board spokesperson Ryan Bird said the board has shared information provided by the ministry with schools but hasn’t developed anything TDSB specific.

John Yan, a spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said the board has also provided the guidance information and support materials to school staff.

“Like all school boards in the province, the TCDSB is not recommending the Netflix show be used in the classroom,” he wrote in an email.

Critics such as Ian Colman, a professor at the University of Ottawa who researches suicide, said the show oversimplifies the issue. 

“I think this is a big problem with the show where you’re focusing on a teen who has taken her own life,” he said.

“If somebody watching identifies with that teen’s problems, they might also identify with seeing suicide as a solution to their problems.”

But Colman also said talking about suicide reduces stigma. 

“I think it’s really important for people to be able to have a dialogue about suicidal thoughts … on TV you’re not creating that dialogue.”

If you need help you can call

Kids Help Phone at 1 800 668-6868

or

Toronto Distress Centres (416) 408-4357 or 408-HELP

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