A Netflix series targeted at teenagers containing rape, suicide themes, drug use and bullying has raised concerns about impacts on vulnerable youth.

However, the Mental Health Foundation has not recommended banning 13 Reasons Why, and some mental health advocates believe it has helped raise awareness about important topics.

When the first season was released, the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) created the RP18 rating, meaning anyone under 18 needed to be supervised by a parent or guardian (over 18) when viewing the series.

The OFLC has given the second season, which launches today, the same rating, meaning Netflix must warn viewers it contains rape, suicide themes, drug use and bullying.


Season two features a court case between Hannah Baker's parents and school, exploring who, if anyone, was at fault for Hannah's suicide. It features graphic scenes of violence, especially sexual violence, as well as bullying, drug-taking and further discussion of suicide.

Mental Health Foundation spokeswoman Sophia Graham said the foundation remained concerned about some of the messages about suicide, and the impact of graphic scenes of rape and sexual violence.

"Adults supporting vulnerable young people should be aware of messages that present suicide as a form of revenge, romanticise suicide and suggest those who die by suicide can return from the dead to intervene in the lives of those they left behind.

"These messages are not helpful from a suicide prevention perspective and may influence vulnerable viewers to form an intention to take their own lives."

However, the foundation did not recommend the show be banned, and said it provided an "opportunity to talk with young people about the challenges they are experiencing and work together to find solutions".

"Young people are likely to find other ways to watch it and will feel unable to ask for help if they are troubled or distressed by what they have seen.

"However, 20 per cent of viewers will have experienced a mental health problem in the last year, and a significant number are likely to have been sexually assaulted or bereaved by suicide.

"New Zealand has the second highest rate of school bullying in the OECD and the highest rate of youth suicide.

"One in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.


"Portrayals of suicide on screen present a known risk to some viewers, and the foundation is working to ensure their interests are served and support is available to them."

OFLC chief censor David Shanks said parents and guardians should watch the series with their children, or at the same time.

"That way you can at least try to have informed and constructive discussions with them about the content."

The pending release of season two has prompted Auckland's Epsom Girls Grammar School to email parents that the show starts screening in New Zealand today.

"It's more a case of we know that many people will view the show," principal Lorraine Pound said.

"Themes of suicide, sexual assault and bullying are confronting and as the email states we 'also appreciate that the [first] series resonated with young people and provided an opportunity for them to discuss a subject most often difficult or discouraged'."

The email further acknowledged parents could be concerned about how to respond to the issues raised, and provided links to helpful resources.

"So, rather than a warning about the programme, we are seeking to support parents with what can be difficult conversations," Pound said.

Mental health campaigner Mike King said the show carried important messages.

He accepted concerns about the show's potential impacts on vulnerable people, and said it was good for them to know what they were getting into before watching it.

"But these are real-life things happening, and we need to find new ways of talking about them."

Mental health campaigner Mike King said the show carried important messages. Photo / Michael Craig
Mental health campaigner Mike King said the show carried important messages. Photo / Michael Craig

Through the Key To Life Charitable Trust and speaking in schools he had found the last series had a positive impact on young people.

"It has opened up discussion, allowed young people to see their lives as they are living played out on the screen.

"It has also made young people more aware about vulnerable people, and the need to be more careful with words and attitudes.

"Those who are in a good place realise the impacts that judgmental attitudes might have on those who are more vulnerable.

"And in the long run this is helpful to those vulnerable people, as it shows attitudes are changing, and it is okay to open up."

The Mental Health Foundation has a place on its website with advice and resources for those concerned about issues raised in the series.

Where to get help:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

Or if you need to talk to someone else:

• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• RAPE CRISIS: 0800 883 300
• SAFE TO TALK: 0800 044 334 or txt 4334 (available 24/7). Provides access to free and confidential information and support to people affected by sexual harm in any way.