Since its debut on Netflix earlier this year, the drama “13 Reasons Why,” an adaptation of a young adult novel, has spurred much discussion among suicide prevention experts and mental health advocates.
The series follows the story of Hannah, a teenager who has recently died by suicide. As her parents, teachers and friends process the loss, Hannah’s close friend and crush, Clay, finds himself obsessed with Hannah’s death, what caused her to kill herself, and how it may have been prevented. He is plagued by the “what ifs” of their time together. A mysterious delivery sends Clay further down a path of grief, regret, and ultimately the start of healing and learning lessons from loss.
Some have praised the series for drawing awareness to the topic of suicide. “13 Reasons Why” is one of Netflix’s most watched programs of 2017 and has exposed people to suicide and the intense grief of survivors, and also issues like sexual assault, drug addiction, and bullying.
Unfortunately, the show is riddled with problematic content. Hannah’s suicide is romanticized, especially in the context of the star-crossed lovers relationship between Hannah and Clay. Suicide is portrayed as an acceptable method of revenge, and the revenge element often overshadows the complex and mounting reasons that Hannah took her own life. Opportunities to show how teens might reach out, and successfully receive help, are missed, and in fact it shows only how attempt’s to get help could go horribly wrong. Teenagers could construe this message as discouraging help-seeking from adults. Finally, and most upsetting, is the fact that Hannah’s suicide is graphically depicted, going against guidelines that suicide experts outline for the media. For a program aimed and marketed towards teens, who are particularly vulnerable to influence and suicide contagion, these are some dangerous missteps that overshadow any awareness message.
Suicide prevention experts and advocates have been speaking out about “13 Reasons Why” since it was released, and that includes Beau Pinkham, Director of Crisis Intervention Services at The Crisis Center of Johnson County, Iowa. In a recent Op-Ed, Beau lays out the dangers of the series’ depiction of suicide and the effects it is having. You can read Beau’s Op-Ed in the Des Moines Register here.
Have you watched “13 Reasons Why?” What were your thoughts? Please leave us a comment below.
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