13 Reasons Why was an instant hit when it was released on Netflix just three weeks ago, but suicide prevention experts are not fans of the 13-episode series. In an interview posted by ABC News, Dan Reidenberg, the executive director for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), said Selena Gomez’s pet project could actually be harmful to high-risk teens.
13 Reasons Why is based on Jay Asher’s YA novel about Hannah Baker (played by Katherine Langford), a 17-year-old who commits suicide by slitting her wrists in a bathtub and leaves behind audio recordings detailing the events — and the 13 people — who drove her to kill herself.
Reidenberg says he is worried that young people might identify with Hannah, and it could result in an increase in teen suicides.
“I’ve heard from others that are really concerned because it’s so sensational and so graphic that they’re worried about the copycat effect of suicide,” he said.
Reidenberg is especially concerned with the graphic images shown on 13 Reasons Why, saying young minds can’t process such horrific messages and that there’s nothing in the series to balance out the horrific suicide scene.
“The show actually doesn’t present a viable alternative to suicide,” he said of 13 Reasons Why.
“The show doesn’t talk about mental illness or depression, doesn’t name those words. My thoughts about the series are that it’s probably done more harm than any good.”
In an interview posted by the Chicago Tribune, Reidenberg also called out a key scene in 13 Reasons Why in which a guidance counselor carelessly dismisses Hannah’s cry for help and seemingly blames her for some of the things that have happened to her, calling it “a horrible message.”
In addition, Australian mental health organization Headspace issued a warning about the “dangerous content” in 13 Reasons Why and why it could lead to a “stressing reaction” from vulnerable viewers.
“National and international research clearly indicates the very real impact and risk to harmful suicide exposure leading to increased risk and possible suicide contagion,” national manager Kristen Douglas said, according to the Huffington Post Australia.
In a series of Twitter posts, Netflix star Shannon Purser (Stranger Things) also warned teens to avoid watching 13 Reasons Why.
I would advise against watching 13 Reasons Why if you currently struggle with suicidal thoughts or self harm/have undergone sexual assault.
— Shannon Purser (@shannonpurser) April 18, 2017
There are some very graphic scenes in there that could easily trigger painful memories and feelings. Please protect yourselves.
— Shannon Purser (@shannonpurser) April 18, 2017
But the stars and producers involved with the 13 Reasons Why see things differently. In “Beyond the Reasons,” a featurette released alongside the series, 13 Reasons Why executive producer Selena Gomez said she felt the show would help prevent teen suicides.
“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,” Gomez said.
Our show @13reasonswhy came out tonight and I couldn't be more overwhelmed with pride and joy. After 7 years of holding onto this book, I couldn't of picked a better time for this message to exist. Jay Asher wrote a beautifully tragic, compelling story and we were lucky to have brought it to life. Thank you to every single soul that put their heart into this passion project
13 Reasons Why co-producer Brian Yorkey revealed that showrunners “worked very hard not to be gratuitous,” but he made it clear that they wanted viewers to feel Hannah’s pain.
“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,” he said.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, 13 Reasons Why star Katherine Langford worked hard to not glorify Hannah’s death, and she pointed to other TV shows that try to glamorize suicide.
“Everyone really wanted to show it as truthful as possible,” the 13 Reasons Why star told THR.
“We realize that it is an important issue. The way it’s being represented in past popular TV shows, it has romanticized it and used it as a plot device…This story belongs to everyone who is watching it. It is confrontational and it is ugly, and we needed to show that because we needed to show the truth.”
Despite the drama, 13 Reasons Why author Jay Asher had nothing but praise for the Netflix series, including some of the controversial scenes that deviated from his novel. Asher said the graphic scenes were included so suicide wouldn’t be glamorized or romanticized.
“They felt for a TV series, if you’re going to watch it, you want to show it as horrific as it actually is,” the 13 Reasons Why writer said. “So the way she does it, you can’t watch it and feel like it’s glamorized in any way. It looks and is painful, and then when she’s found by her parents, it absolutely destroys them.”
Selena Gomez has said she is “overwhelmed” by the response 13 Reasons Why is getting. In an Instagram post, Gomez thanked everyone who has “watched and talked about the message of our show.”
Take a look at the video below for more on the backlash against 13 Reasons Why.
[Featured Image by Mike Coppola/Getty Images]