Spoiler Alert! This discussion includes details from Netflix’s series “13 Reasons Why”.
Early in Netflix’s original series, 13 Reasons Why, an adaptation of Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, we learn that one of the main characters, Hannah Baker, has recently died by suicide. The show follows her high school classmates as they listen to cassette tapes Hannah made to describe what led to her suicide.
13 Reasons Why has sparked conversations among teens, parents, and mental health experts about how to prevent teenage suicide. The series has also been criticized for “glamorizing” suicide. Critics point to cases such as that of a 23-year-old Peruvian youth who recently took his life and left behind recordings. Two American families have also blamed the show for triggering the suicides of loved ones, and a new study links the show to a possible increase in suicidal thoughts.
Supporters of the show contend that it has helped shine a spotlight on an overlooked epidemic–suicide. They believe that bringing greater national attention to teen suicide outweighs potential downsides of the show.
Here are the thoughts of the After School Safety Team on the potential good and bad things that could result from the popularity of the series. Keep in mind that we are not mental health professionals, these are simply our thoughts based on our experiences in life and through working with teens.
- Visibility of Teen Issues
This captivating story is exposing viewers of all ages to the realistic ups and downs that teenagers face. The show touches on a wide range of topics including depression, anxiety, bullying, rape, sexual assault, and harassment. The much-needed attention to these issues makes it harder for society to ignore them, and hopefully, will foster deeper thinking about how we can address the causes of teen issues.
- Conversations about Teen Issues
With visibility comes conversation. “This show really caused my friends and I to talk and realize how important it is to tell your close friends and parents if you are suffering or if anything is going wrong. You only have one life and there is a solution to everything,” says Texas high school student Dana R. “People say 13 reasons why romanticizes suicide. that’s not an accurate portrayal of it. educate yourselves,” says a student anonymously on After School. These conversations among both teens and adults can help lead to more honest, responsible thinking about how to approach teen suicide.
- Internal Reflection
Hannah taking her life was difficult to watch. It makes us think about the lives of teens, depression, bullying, sexual assault, and suicide. It makes us think about what it’s like to be a parent; what it’s like to be a teen. It makes us think about relationships in our lives and about people we know who are struggling. Hopefully, our reflections will help all of us become more aware of our surroundings, listen better to those around us, and reach out to those in need of a helping hand.
- Taking the Glamour Out of Teen Suicide
Millions watched through thirteen episodes, waiting for the finale to see how this nail-biting story would end. In an extremely real, vivid closing scene, we watch Hannah enter a bathtub with razor blades. We finally see the brutal reality of the act that brought Hannah so much attention throughout the previous episodes.
Showing the horrific detail of the act of Hannah’s suicide brings about extreme discomfort for viewers. This candid, honest scene, is hard to watch and is not glamourous in any way.
- It Violates Recommended “Safe and Effective Messaging for Suicide Prevention”
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has created a research-based guide of do’s and don’ts when covering the topic of suicide in the media. A case can be made that 13 Reasons Why comes close to or violates as many as four of the “don’ts” on the list, including:
- Don’t glorify or romanticize suicide or people who have died by suicide.
- Don’t normalize suicide by presenting it as a common event.
- Don’t focus on personal details of people who have died by suicide.
- Don’t present overly detailed descriptions of suicide victims or methods of suicide.
- Conversations and Visibility around Teen Suicide
One of the fears many have is that talking about suicide encourages people to do it. It’s a fact that teens are more aware of suicide and attention it could bring them because of the show. But does the possibility of receiving wanted attention lead to taking action when it comes to suicide? There may be no clear answer, but this is a concern of many. And as mentioned above, a study revealed that searches related to suicide were 19% higher than expected after the release of the show.
- Being Seen, in a Dangerous Way
Many of us, though we may deny it, want attention. We want to be seen and want to be understood. Hannah’s suicide brought her greater notoriety, and in death, she received the attention and caring she was searching for while alive.
This is where “glamorizing” could be most dangerous. If a teen who is struggling to be seen and understood thinks that Hannah found a solution through suicide, it may seem like a viable option for them — especially when they feel as though nothing else is working.
What Do You Think?
Let’s talk about it. Have you watched 13 Reasons Why? Do you think it is helpful or harmful? Should shows be allowed to target audiences of minors with messages like this? Should Netflix have promoted this controversial series? What impact could the show have on teen suicide?
Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @SafetyOnSocial.
If you are in need of help, there are people waiting to help you. Text “Hi Tiger” to 741-741 to chat anonymously with a Crisis Counselor from our partner Crisis Text Line.