13 Reasons Why sparks discussions on mental health

Sara Volpi, WKU Literary Outreach and Southern Kentucky Book Fest Coordinator, introduces the panel of professionals to discuss the book and Netflix spinoff “13 Reasons Why” at Russell Miller Theater Tuesday night.

Laurel Deppen

Each year, the Southern Kentucky Book Fest selects a novel to be read and discussed within the Bowling Green community as a part of their SOKY Reads! program. Their choice this year is Jay Asher’s “13 Reasons Why,” the book that inspired the hit Netflix series.

As part of the SOKY Reads! program, several different events centered around discussion of the novel have taken place. On Tuesday, a panel discussion was held at the Russell Miller Theatre. A panel of professionals in the mental health field were asked to attend to comment on the dark nature of the novel and its Netflix adaptation. The panel wasn’t only meant for professionals to share their personal opinions on the story, but also for students to voice their opinions and ask questions regarding how mental health and suicide are dealt with in the novel and the series.

The hour-long discussion posed many different questions. The most prevalent were whether “13 Reasons Why was more harmful or beneficial to young people. Panel members and attendees raised arguments for and against the series. Some argued any show that begins discussion on mental health issues is beneficial, while others said the way it is presented is harmful because it seems to present a problem and offer no hope or solutions.

“There’s no helpful information in the book,” panelist Masami Matsuyuki said. “You need to have a support system, or if you don’t have a support system go to counselors, mental health professionals — you need support to be able to use this information in a helpful way.”

The controversial nature of this piece of fiction is something that Sara Volpi, the literary outreach coordinator at WKU and Southern Kentucky Book Fest coordinator, said added to the importance of the discussions held at the panel.

“The commercial aspect of [the show] ended up overshadowing the real issue at hand which is that some people need to know that there are resources available …There is hope, and I think that Jay [Asher] when he wrote it initially, did want to share a message of hope … It is a very tough show, but it is bringing up conversations that I think needed to be had,” Volpi said.

The story has been widely referred to as triggering. Part of the SOKY Reads! program involves distributing free copies of the novel. While doing this, Volpi said she asked parents to read it before allowing their children to do so.

At the end of this discussion, Volpi and the panelists wanted to stress the importance of seeking help for mental health issues, even if finding help wasn’t presented well in “13 Reasons Why.”

The Counseling and Testing Center, which offers many psychological services to WKU students, is located in room 409 in Potter Hall. Panelist Brian Lee also encouraged people struggling to seek help from the community and to be aware of instant anonymous services such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text Line (741741).

More events based on “13 Reasons Why will continue during the rest of the SOKY Reads! program. Author Jay Asher will be reading from the book, speaking about it and signing copies Oct. 21 at SKyPAC.

Reporter Laurel Deppen can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].