Yesterday, Netflix confirmed that the controversial show 13 Reasons Why would be renewed for a second season, according to the Inquisitr. But that hasn’t stopped prominent suicide specialists from calling for the show’s cancellation. According to Newsweek, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has joined a host of other organizations in condemning the show’s glamorous portrayal of suicide.
The Netflix show centers around Hannah Baker, a high school student who committed suicide after recording a set of 13 audio cassette tapes in which she explained why various classmates are “responsible” for her demise, according to the Inquisitr.
Newsweek reports that last Tuesday, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention gave a presentation outlining how 13 Reasons Why can lead to suicide contagion. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suicide contagion is defined as “exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide.” Studies have shown that both direct and indirect exposure to suicide can lead to an increase in suicidal behavior in at-risk individuals, especially in adolescents.
Dr. Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, stated that the manner in which the suicide was portrayed in the show was a key factor in suicide risk.
“I believe unintentionally the producers really did kind of romanticize the suicide, and that is one of the reasons that contagion is a true concern here.”
Moutier has also cited the show’s graphic depiction of self-harm and portrayal of themes that are “extremely relatable and engaging to youth” as factors contributing to contagion risk, according to Newsweek.
The concern of suicide contagion from 13 Reasons Why is not just a theoretical possibility. Newsweek reports that Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation has received an increase in calls and emails to its counseling services that were directly related to the Netflix show. With Season 2 confirmed, many are worried about a continued risk.
According to Newsweek, a Colorado Springs school district is experiencing teen suicide clusters and has sent an email to families that appeared to reference 13 Reasons Why, stating, “Suicide is an extremely difficult topic to discuss, even when in reference to a fictional show.”
Julie Cerel, the president-elect of the American Association of Suicidology has stated a suicide may affect approximately 135 people in the victim’s social circle and that the younger a person is exposed to suicide, the greater the risk of developing suicidal thoughts.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is not the only organization concerned about 13 Reasons Why. According to Newsweek, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American School Counselor Association, and the JED Foundation have all issued a guidance about the show.
The founder of the suicide prevention organization To Write Love on Her Arms, Jamie Tworkowski, stated, “If you struggle or have struggled with self-injury or thoughts of suicide, we would encourage you NOT to watch 13 Reasons Why.”
The Netflix show seems to be operating in flagrant violation of government recommendations on suicide portrayal in the media. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends media and news reports of suicide be brief and factual, warning that repetitive or prolonged exposure to these reports can increase the risk of suicide contagion. Although 13 Reasons Why is a fictional show, the ability to binge watch a story of suicide from the perspective of a relatable main character would likely classify as prolonged exposure. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention specifically warns against binge-watching the show and recommends that adolescents who have experienced sexual assault or suicidal thoughts to not watch the show at all.
The HHS also warns that oversimplifying suicide by focusing on negative life events sends the wrong message, obscuring the fact that suicide is often caused by mental health issues such as depression and may not be caused or “justified” by external stressors. It is evident in the very title of the show that 13 Reasons Why does the exact opposite. Instead of leaving room for mental health issues, the show focuses on all the “reasons” Hannah committed suicide and even encourages blaming the people in her life for her fatal act.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Dr. Moutier criticized this aspect of the show as well, stating that 13 Reasons Why overlooks the fact that the main risk factor for suicide is an underlying mental health condition.
The HHS also states that “reports should not glorify the victim and should not imply that suicide was effective in achieving a personal goal such as gaining media attention” and that “reports should not divulge detailed descriptions of the method used to avoid possible duplication” Clearly, 13 Reasons Why’s portrayal of Hannah’s suicide as an act of “revenge” on the people who hurt her, as well as the show’s graphic portrayal of the act, flies in the face of these recommendations.
Despite their loud protestations, it is unclear whether the opinions and warnings of suicide experts and organizations will have any effect on the fate of 13 Reasons Why season 2.
If you are anyone you know has suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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