Guest Post: High School Counselor Irene Yu Responds to Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”

September 13, 2017
Leslie Dixon
Irene Yu

Irene Yu

As a credentialed high school counselor I’ve been trained in all aspects of counseling – personal, social-emotional, academic, career, but I never thought that a large portion of my time and energy would be focused on crisis response. With pressure to go to a “good college,” fitting in, finding yourself and social media reminding users how wonderful everyone else’s life is, teens are constantly dealing with feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. It seems that no matter how hard teens try they feel defeated, and many do not have the resiliency skills to pick themselves up to try again. Some resort to harmful coping mechanisms (like cutting, taking pills etc.) and others choose to end their lives – some successfully. 

Earlier this year Netflix released a controversial series called 13 Reasons Why. For readers who are unfamiliar with this series, it’s based on a book about a girl named Hannah Baker. She leaves some cassette tapes to 13 individuals whom she felt contributed to her decision to end her life, and the series shows flashbacks of her interactions with them.  

13 Reasons WhyDue to the popularity of the show, schools are revisiting policies to help with suicide prevention and are working with affected families to get the help they need. I’ve seen the series, and while many scenes do break my heart, I feel that it can facilitate a much-needed dialogue between parents and teens regarding the struggles and hardships in high school. However, without proper guidance teens who watch the series without supervision may see suicide as a glorified act. So parents/guardians, if your teen would like to watch this series, please do so together and have a conversation about what you saw and what to do if your teen faces something similar. I do not recommend elementary students watch, as the content is very graphic.

The topic of suicide is a difficult one to address, but this fatal epidemic is spreading, and during my time as a counselor the number of cases seems to have grown each year. I’ve gone to several trainings with counselors across the U.S., and many also confessed that they’ve seen an increase of suicide risk assessments as well. Yet suicide is preventable, and warning signs can be spotted before it’s too late.

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Risky behavior (ie. unprotected sex, drinking, taking drugs)
  • Writings or drawings of suicide
  • Having a plan for suicide 
  • If they’ve attempted suicide in the past

Anyone (parent or teen) can be a positive influence and support others who may be suicidal. If you notice a number of these signs, whatever you do, do NOT keep that information to yourself! If it’s during school hours, talk to your school counselor, if it’s outside of school use one of the resources below to get help. You might be the person who saves a life!    


Irene Yu graduated with her Masters in Psychological Counseling from Columbia University in New York. She’s been a counselor for 5 years and is currently working in Southern California. She recently launched her youtube channel ( to provide free resources for students and families. For more information please visit her website   

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