13 Reasons Why is both an extremely good show that the internet is obsessed with, and also an extremely controversial show that the internet is annoyed with. Why? It’s complicated, but it all comes down to one question: Does the show handle its intensive depiction of suicide responsibly? With Season 2 just around the corner on May 18, let’s examine why people feel the show is problematic, and how producers—including Selena Gomez—have responded.
Why People Were Upset
As a reminder, 13 Reasons Why is about a girl named Hannah who commits suicide and leaves thirteen tapes for people in her life who were part of the reason why. “There is a great concern that I have that young people are going to over identify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series,” Dan Reidenberg, the executive director for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said back in April 2017. “I’ve heard from others that are really concerned because its so sensational and so graphic that they’re worried about the copycat effect of suicide.”
Reidenberg went on to explain that the media depiction of suicide has a huge effect on teens—and considering it’s the second leading cause of death among the age group, the depiction of suicide in shows meant for a young audience should be handled with great care.
Another cause for concern? The fact that 13 Reasons Why doesn’t present an alternative to suicide. Many feel that the show has a social/moral responsibility to show a “viable alternative” to the act—not to mention a responsibility to go much deeper into the subject of mental illness and depression, rather than simply use it as a narrative tool.
And for what it’s worth, psychologists, teachers, and parents aren’t the only ones worried about 13 Reasons Why. There’s also been a large response from teens, including 18-year-old Jaclyn Grimm who wrote for USA Today about her concern that the show places the “blame” of suicide on other people.
Degrassi actor Aislinn Paul also spoke out about the show, writing in a series of tweets, “I can’t get it out of my mind so I have to say, I think 13 Reasons Why discusses teen suicide & depression in an unhelpful & unhealthy way.”
I can’t get it out of my mind so I have to say, I think 13 Reasons Why discusses teen suicide & depression in an unhelpful & unhealthy way.
If you’re struggling and this show helped you somehow, that’s great and I would never want to take that away from you.
But if it made you feel worse, misunderstood, isolated, or triggered in any way, please reach out for help! @KidsHelpPhone: 1(800) 668-6868
Yep, There Were Calls for Censorship
Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of calls for censorship once 13 Reasons Why dropped on Netflix. Not only did a school in Canada try to ban students from talking about the show, The Parents Television Council (PTC) called for Netflix to delay the Season 2 release of 13 Reasons Why until “experts” determined if it was safe for minors to watch.
“We call on Netflix to refrain from releasing Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why until experts in the scientific community have determined it to be safe for consumption by an audience that is comprised heavily of minor children,” PTC President Tim Winter said this past April. “When a film or TV series centers entirely on high school-aged children for its storytelling, it is high school and junior high school children who watch and who feel most emotionally connected to the characters.”
Obviously, Netflix is releasing the show as planned. Season 2 drops on May 18 and you can watch the trailer below:
Yes, Tragically, There Were Copycat Suicides
In June 2017, it was reported that a 23-year-old girl had committed suicide in Peru and left behind tapes allegedly inspired by 13 Reasons Why. Additionally, two families in California believe the suicides of their teens were triggered by the show.
Meanwhile, research published at the end of July 2017 found that Google searches about suicide rose almost 20 percent in the 19 days after the show came out—and the biggest elevated search terms were along the lines of “how to kill yourself.” The authors of the study concluded that “13 Reasons Why, in its present form, has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation.”
Concern over “suicide contagion” (aka copycat behavior) has been utmost in the mental health community, and the National Association of School Psychologists even released a statement about the series saying that “Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.”
Selena’s Defense of the Show
Whether or not you think 13 Reasons Why handles suicide responsibly, it’s certain that the cast and crew worked responded to criticism thoughtfully. The production team consulted with mental health professionals extensively, created the website 13ReasonsWhy.info to provide resources and crisis hotlines, and made a PSA to accompany the series called Beyond the Reasons.
“We wanted to do it in a way where it was honest, and we wanted to make something that can, hopefully, help people, because suicide should never, ever be an option,” co-producer Selena Gomez said in the video, which you can watch in full below.
Selena has also said that many of the concerns people had in Season 1 will be addressed in Season 2. “All the questions that came up and all the talk about it was all valid and I understand it,” she explained last summer. “But I think with Season 2 we’re going to actually answer a lot of those questions and a lot of resolution with the characters are going to come.”
How Netflix Dealt with the Issue
Aside from working with mental health professionals, making Beyond the Reasons, and creating 13ReasonsWhy.info, Netflix responded to concerns by placing trigger warnings prior to certain episodes. They released a statement explaining the decision:
In preparation for the launch of Season 2, Netflix says new resources will be added to 13ReasonsWhy.info “including an updated Discussion Guide and a new Discussion Series—a set of videos where cast address issues in the series including bullying, sexual assault and drug abuse.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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