As published on the Sentinel.
In trying to start a conversation on suicide, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” romanticized a subject that should never be taken lightly by failing to provide educational information on suicide prevention or present any suicide prevention resources to its viewers.
The popular show — adapted from Jay Asher’s novel of the same title — depicted the aftermath of the main character Hannah’s suicide. Hannah leaves behind 13 tapes that explain why she took her life. Each tape is addressed to a peer or adult who contributed to the traumas she experienced, inevitably leading to her suicide.
Following the release of the show, a debate was sparked on how to responsibly discuss suicide.
Since season one’s release on March 31, 2017, Google has seen a rise in suicide-related searches. According to The Atlantic, research published at the end of July by JAMA Internal Medicine stated that “Google queries about suicide rose by almost 20 percent in 19 days after the show came out, representing between 900,000 and 1.5 million more searches than usual regarding the subject.”
The largest increases came from searches related to suicide “ideation,” which refers to thoughts of suicide and suicide tips. After reviewing their data, the authors suggested that “’13 Reasons Why,’ in its present form, has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation.”
The show may have also led to copycat suicides in two California teens. According to ABC News, the teens’ families claim that the two high-schoolers took their lives just days after binge-watching “13 Reasons Why.” The uncle of one of the minors told his local TV station that he feels as if the show only gives one alternative to cyberbullying and other teenage issues.
The show did just that. Rather than explaining to viewers that there are ways to cope with depression, the 13-hour series only showed viewers one way out.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 15 million Americans, ages 18 and up, suffer from depression. Depression paves a dangerous path for suicide and is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Despite all of this, the producers of the show said that “the show is raising awareness around the subject of suicide, banishing stigmas and leading to more discussion of a sensitive topic,” according to The Atlantic.
However, the Executive Director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education Dan Reidenburg, a psychologist, warned Netflix not to release the show, according to The Washington Post.
“There should be no reason, no justification whatsoever, why any kind of production — entertainment or news — would be so descriptive and so graphic,” Reidenburg said. “TV shows and films can raise awareness and encourage discussion about suicide without appearing to glamorize it.”
Originally contacted for guidance in regards to the series, Netflix ignored the doctor’s advice.
Even though a striking 90 percent of suicide-related deaths are caused by previous mental illnesses, the show “never explicitly considers whether Hannah is suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other issues.”
“Hannah never tells her parents or friends that she has suicidal thoughts,” said suicide prevention advocate MollyKate Cline. “She eventually goes to her school’s guidance counselor for help, but instead of offering treatment options, he questions her in ways that make it seem like the issues she’s dealing with — including multiple instances of sexual assault — are her fault.”
Producers went on to create a second season that was released May 2018. Season two follows the students after Hannah’s suicide, and again uses suicide as a plot device. The second season also graphically shows violent sexual assaults.
“13 Reasons Why” certainly received the attention its producers and writers craved, but at the hands of vulnerable Netflixers.
I encourage any Kennesaw State students struggling with depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation or any type of trauma to visit KSU’s Counseling and Psychological Servicescenter at the Marietta campus Student Center in Building A, Suite 170, and the Kennesaw campus in Kennesaw Hall, room 2401.
People need to take the time to educate themselves on suicide prevention and warning signs. If you have not done so already, do not watch this show — It’s not worth triggering yourself. Suicide should never be made into a teenage drama show, especially one that ignores the psychological aspects of depression.