Could 13 Reasons Why start a wave of suicide contagion among young adults?

On March 31, a long awaited show was released exclusively on Netflix. Since airing, 13 Reasons Why has maintained its spotlight, receiving reviews from both ends of the spectrum  While many rave and suggest their friends watch the show, mental health professionals beg to differ.

The Netflix series is the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes explaining her reasons why. Over the course of the show, the 13 people she blames for her death, listen to the tapes and discover what role they played in her death. In the final episodes, a graphic rape and suicide occur, leaving viewers speechless.

Following the final episodes, many parents and mental health leaders questioned this show and its lasting effects on its viewers. Could this show potentially disrupt mental health in the youth watching this show?

Suicide Contagion

Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, headspace, has reported that they’ve “received a growing numbers of calls and emails directly related to the program [and to] be aware of the dangers and risks associated for children and young people who have been exposed” to the show.

“…we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series.”

-—Dan Reidenberg
 Executive Director for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education

“Suicide contagion” has become a worry for many mental health professionals. There are potential risks among unstable individuals when viewing such graphic and triggering materials in the news and media. “The reporting of a suicide death in the media has the potential to increase imitative suicide attempts for vulnerable individuals,” according to a 2017 study done by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Because the show does not even mention the terms mental illness or depression, it is argued the show does more harm than good by not presenting a viable option in overcoming depression other than suicide.

“My problem is that the audience is shown what not to do without examples of what they actually should do.”

—Molly Kate Cline
Teen Vogue Mental Health Advocate

The Reasons Why

Although the majority of feedback following the show has been negative, some say it may be a good way to open conversation among those struggling with mental health. Netflix has also defended the show by saying they “support the unflinching vision of the show’s creators, who engaged the careful advice of medical professionals in the scriptwriting process.”

Co-producer (alongside Selena Gomez), Brian Yorkey, added that the show’s creators “worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch, because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide.” The idea seems to be that by showing what not to do, people would now know what to do.

Although I am not sure if this is the best way to address suicide contemplation, the show has encouraged and opened up dialogue surrounding the somewhat taboo subject. In addition, The American Psychiatric Association answered 13 Mental Health Questions about “13 Reasons Why” because the series has posed such a significant increase in mental health questions.

***

I encourage you, if you have or have ever experienced mental illness, proceed with caution if you haven’t seen this show yet. If you are fortunate to have not, keep in mind the emotions showed in the series are very real – not for entertainment. There are many around you who’ve experienced the same feelings Hannah felt.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

Featured image is by Netflix (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons)
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3 thoughts on “Could 13 Reasons Why start a wave of suicide contagion among young adults?”

  1. Great insight Jordan. As a mom, I found the movie eye-opening and helpful. But I worry about the fallout from the movie. I do feel it may have a glamorized teen suicide to some extent.

    Like

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