The Netflix breakout show “13 Reasons Why” has been praised for its binge-worthy, dramatic storytelling. But mental health experts warn that its thrilling narrative devices also make it problematic.
The story, which is adapted from Jay Asher’s best-selling novel of the same title, follows high school student Hannah Baker as she posthumously narrates the months leading up to her death by suicide. Hannah leaves behind tapes for people in her life that detail how their nefarious actions ultimately led to her decision. The 13-episode drama also vividly depicts the method Hannah used to end her life.
Mental health advocates say the show should not have shown Hannah’s suicide and have spoken out about the potentially harmful nature of the show.
“I have watched the show and was horrified at the graphic, sensational ways in which they depicted Hannah’s life,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, told The Huffington Post. “Viewers can understand someone who dies, even by suicide, without having to be so graphic.”
A Netflix representative has addressed the criticism, telling The Washington Post that four mental health professionals consulted on the show’s material. And the episode involving detailed scenes related to suicide comes with a warning.
The writer of that episode, Nic Sheff, wrote in Vanity Fair that he was “surprised” by the backlash. He said the show’s staff attempted to handle suicide sensitively, pointing to his own suicide attempt as inspiration for his writing.
Netflix also produced a bonus episode titled “13 Reasons Why: Beyond The Reasons,” which includes information on mental health and ways to get help. But the narrative episodes themselves, which arguably have a much larger audience, don’t offer resources or ways to reach out for help.
And, unfortunately, the problems don’t end there. Here are some other ways mental health advocates say the series could be damaging.
The show’s target demographic has a growing suicide risk.
The series does a disservice to its main audience: young women.
Suicide is a growing issue among adolescents, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published last year that measured suicide rates from 1999 to 2014. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 saw the greatest rise in suicide rates during this time period ― a staggering 200 percent.
Vulnerable people who are in this age range may see themselves in Hannah, Reidenberg said. Teenagers with mental health disorders may struggle to be taken seriously. They could be seen as “dramatic,” or their behavior could just be attributed to their life stage. But mental health is a real issue, and the way suicide is portrayed in “13 Reasons Why” may trivialize that fact.
Hannah’s death scene could inspire copycat acts.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has ethical guidelines that warn against this type of storytelling. These rules…