Does Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why ‘Glorify’ Suicide?

13 reasons why trailer
13 Reasons Why racked up more tweets in its first week of release than any other Netflix original to date (Photo: Netflix)

Mental health charities have warned that Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, about a teenager who kills herself, could be “triggering” for viewers with mental health problems, while others have praised it for sparking a conversation about a notoriously taboo subject.

The hit drama, which launched on 31 March, sees 17-year-old Hannah Baker reveals the reasons behind her suicide through a string of tapes sent to the 13 people she holds responsible.

Since its release, youth initiative Headspace claims to have received “growing numbers of calls and emails directly related to the programme” which, it argues, “presents the viewer with very confronting and graphic messaging and imagery inclusive of suicide method and means”.

Dr Steven Leicester, head of Headspace, told ABC News that the problem lies with the show’s failure to offer a “viable alternative” to suicide. “The show doesn’t talk about mental illness or depression, doesn’t name those words,” he said. “My thoughts about the series are that it’s probably done more harm than good.”

Over on Twitter, Stranger Things actress Shannon Purser has also drawn attention to the series by advising vulnerable viewers to “be careful” when deciding whether or not to click play.

Not everyone agrees, however, with many viewers praising 13 Reasons Why for dealing with suicide in a“real” way and forcing a hushed-up subject into mainstream conversation.

13 Reasons Why, executive produced by Selena Gomez, racked up more tweets in its first week of release than any other Netflix original to date, making it likely that a second series will be commissioned.

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Responding to the backlash in an open letter sent to Vanity Fair, writer Nic Sheff, who once tried to take his own life himself, wrote: “When it came time to discuss the portrayal of the protagonist’s suicide in 13 Reasons Why, I of course immediately flashed on my own experience. It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like – to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse.

“It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all – it’s a screaming, agonising, horror.

Facing these issues head-on—talking about them, being open about them—will always be our best defence against losing another life. I’m proud to be a part of a television series that is forcing us to have these conversations, because silence really does equal death. We need to keep talking, keep sharing, and keep showing the realities of what teens in our society are dealing with every day. To do anything else would be not only irresponsible, but dangerous.”

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If you’re affected by the issues raised in this article, you may want to call Samaritans on 116 123 (UK) or 116 123 (ROI). Calls are free and the helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Not comfortable talking on the phone? Email them on [email protected]

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