13 Reasons Why, Netflix’ series about a high school student who suffers abuse and then commits suicide, has seen tremendous success since its release, along with some heavy criticism. Depicting Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) suicide in a very graphic way, some have said it glorifies suicide, and might push others towards it.
But one of the series’ writers, Nic Sheff, says the opposite is true – suicide must be shown with all the painful, graphic details, in order to face the issues head on. Nic bravely shares his own suicide attempt, the reasons behind it – and why he thinks a show like 13 Reasons Why can help others who are contemplating this horrifying act.
Warning: From this point onward, the article contains spoilers to the entire season of 13 Reasons Why.
13 Reasons Why is based on a successful book by Jay Asher, written in 2007, and the Netflix series consist of 13 episodes. It starts with 17-year-old Hannah committing suicide, and two weeks after her death, her friend Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) receives a package with 13 cassette tapes, in which Hannah explains the 13 reasons for her suicide, which include abuse, sexual assault, and rape.
Nic Sheff is the writer of Episode 6 of 13 Reasons Why, titled “Tape 3, Side B.” Nic, who was a drug addict in his past, tried to take his own life at one point, after failing (in his mind) to battle his addiction and depression. In a brave op-ed for Vanity Fair, Nic shares his personal story and points out the thing that saved his life – the memory of someone else who tried to commit suicide.
“While my reasons for ending my life were far different from the protagonist’s of 13 Reasons Why, there were some similarities. We both experienced a feeling of complete and utter defeat. Circumstances – some extreme and some quotidian – compiled to back us up against a wall with the feeling that nothing we ever did could ever repair the damage done, and that all last traces of hope had been blotted out completely.”
“For me, I’d lost everything. I couldn’t stay sober; I’d destroyed my life and nearly destroyed my family – and there seemed no possibility of anything ever getting any better. They say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but the problem really didn’t seem all that temporary. In fact, it seemed fucking eternal.”
Nic then described how he went to the bathroom, emptied a bottle of pills, and started swallowing. He didn’t even leave a note.
“But then a miracle happened,” he writes. As he was sitting in his bathtub, he remembered the face of a bruised woman he had met in one of his rehab sessions. That woman also tried to kill herself – she, too, took a bunch of pills, and was hoping to “drift off peacefully.”
But this woman’s suicide attempt ended up being anything but peaceful.
“She lay down on the bed. An hour passed. Then her body reacted. Involuntarily, she sat up and began projectile vomiting blood and stomach fluid. In a total blackout, she ran headlong toward the bathroom, but instead smashed face first into the sliding glass door, shattering the glass, breaking her arm, pulverizing her face, and collapsing unconscious in a pool of blood and vomit and whatever else.”
“She woke up next morning in a pain unlike anything she thought was even possible. She crawled, moaning and crying, to a phone and dialed 911. She was bleeding internally, but she would live.”
And it was this memory, of this woman’s suicide attempt, that saved the writer of 13 Reasons Why’s life. Realizing that her suicide attempt was not an answer to the pain, but only the cause of even more pain, made him stop and think things over. He realized that if he could just hold on, eventually things would get better.
And it was this realization that brought him to push for such a graphic depiction of Hannah’s suicide in 13 Reasons Why. It made him realize how important it is to face the issue head on, and for people to see with their own eyes how painful the act really is.
“And so I stand behind what we did 100 percent. I know it was right, because my own life was saved when the truth of suicide was finally held up for me to see in all its horror – and reality.”
The other creators behind 13 Reasons Why also share Nic Sheff’s sentiment. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, 13 Reasons Why book author Jay Asher said the series had to show the suicide act for what it was – horrific.
“The way she does it,” he said, “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.”
13 Reasons Why creator Brian Yorkey explains the team behind the series worked hard not to glorify the suicide.
“We 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.”
And so, while studies have shown the depicting of methods of suicide can trigger and push people who are already struggling with the thought, it’s clear the creators of 13 Reasons Why had the best intentions when it comes to suicide prevention. The graphical nature of Hannah’s suicide was not just for TV’s sake – it was meant to help deter people from doing the same thing, or at least reach out for help.
“If that woman had not told me her story, I wouldn’t be here now,” Nic Sheff writes, “I would’ve missed out on all the amazing gifts I have in my life today.” Hopefully, 13 Reasons Why’s Hannah Baker’s story will also help push struggling individuals in the right direction.
[Featured Image by Netflix]