As a novel, Thirteen Reasons Why comes off as a chilling read—a page-turner that keeps you riveted partly because of the gripping narratives by high schooler Hannah Baker and partly because it touches on the socially relevant topic of teenage suicide.
Suicide notes and letters left behind for loved ones are not uncommon, but in Hannah’s case, she uses tapes—13 to be exact—to inform bullies, friends, and a rapist what parts they played in her death. Author Jay Asher's debut novel became a New York Times bestseller, an operatic tale of human interest.
After the novel's success, online streaming platform Netflix brought the novel to life through a series of the same name. Made accessible to Netflix’s millions of viewers, the 13-hour pilot season has been a hit, especially with the younger audience.
But 13 Reasons Why has received flak for the gruesome depiction of the finale’s suicide, where the star attempts to end her psychological pain by graphically slashing her wrists with a razor blade—a departure from the novel it was based on, where the main character ended her life by overdosing on drugs. Many agree the show’s glorified depiction of suicide as a means of escape, including its graphic method of killing, may give the wrong idea to its younger, more impressionable viewers.
The show does not tackle teenage
Mental health experts and
Psychologists have warned of potential copycat suicides among viewers who are already experiencing depression or entertaining suicidal thoughts, since the show not only
“It’s not only the content but the message it gives, which is that there is no help and that suicide is glamorous and effective. It’s a false message and it has a contagious effect," says Harold S. Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute.
Likewise, family psychologist James Bray says teen viewers may identify with the pain and bullying the main character experiences, and allow the show to become a model for their actions.
Some Canadian schools have banned their students from discussing the show, while many other groups have called for Netflix to take it down. Several petitions on Change.org have been set up calling on Brian Yorkey, the show’s creator, and Selena Gomez, its executive producer, to stop airing the show on Netflix.
Some of the petitions were allegedly started by teens, stating their reasons for disliking the show. One of the petitions begins with, “Suicide is not entertaining,” and continues with a list of scenes specifically problematic to the show.
Netflix says it is aware of the issues that surround the show and has added an advisory warning to appear before the first episode. The show's creators, however, continue to defend their product. Its writer, Nic Sheff, says he is familiar with self-harm because he used to be a longtime crystal meth user, and at one point tried to take his own life. Sheff says the show is a way of offering hope to the young and letting them know they’re not alone.
Similarly, co-producer Selena Gomez is no stranger to depression. She says she struggles with social media use because of fame (causing her to have habitual hiatuses) and has openly spoken about her depression and going to rehab. She says she remains proud of the show she calls her "passion project" despite the backlash.
But not everyone is like Sheff and Gomez. Not everyone has access to help. The show may be a platform to speak about this taboo subject but it also may ultimately reach the weak-minded and prevent them from seeking the help they need.
The show covers topics that may be too heavy for many children and teens to process and may even inspire the negative