13 Reasons Why, the Netflix adaption of Jay Asher’s 2007 novel, has schools parents and health care professionals in an uproar. The show is about a teen girl, Hannah, who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes listing off 13 people she feels where responsible for her death. Netflix took on the show stating teen suicide and sexual assault are things that we don’t really talk about, but they happen often. Since there is so much stigma surrounding suicide and sexual assault, teens are afraid to reach out for help when they need it. In several episodes of the Netflix original there are graphic depictions of sexual assault and the last episode shows Hanna’s suicide in graphic detail. They even opted to change the method by which she killed her self in the book, overdosing on pills, for the more dramatic and graphic slitting of her wrists. The directors bold decisions to depict an on screen suicide has many parents and health care professionals worried that this will romanticize and encourage suicide attempts. “Some mental health experts say the show could pose health risks for certain young people, such as those who have suicidal thoughts. Others suggest the show provides a valuable opportunity to discuss suicide risk with young people, as well as teaching them how to identify warning signs of depression or suicidal thoughts among their peers. Among American young people, those between ages 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death… Each year, about 157,000 people in that age range receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the United States”(Howard,). Experts are worried the “suicide contagion” phenomenon will increase these numbers.
A study published by the Canadian medical association journal in 2013 found that among 12- to 13-year-olds, being exposed to a classmate’s suicide was associated with being five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Other age ranges had varying levels of correlation but they overall proved that there is an association between exposure to suicide and suicidality outcomes (Swanson, Colman). Although many people believe this could lead to an increase in suicide that was the opposite of the intentions of the shows writers and producers they want to spread awareness and start a conversation. “One of the writers of the 13 Reasons Why series has defended the decision not to shy away from main character Hannah’s suicide and to include a graphic scene of her death… From the very beginning, I agreed that we should depict the suicide with as much detail and accuracy as possible. I even argued for it… It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like — to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off. It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all” (Howard,). Often times we think of suicide as peaceful because this is how it is presented in film. However, this is not the case. Romanticizing suicide could be due to the fact people have never seen how horrific it actually is. By having this tv show that show what it is actually like to commit suicide will add awareness to the reality and show people it is actually something that happens.
Howard, Jacqueline. “’13 Reasons Why’ Sparks Debate on Teen Suicide.” CNN. Cable News Network, 25 Apr. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.
Swanson, Sonja A., and Ian Colman. “Association between Exposure to Suicide and Suicidality Outcomes in Youth.” Canadian Medical Association Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.