The series, entitled 13 Reasons Why, is based on a 2007 novel of the same name by Jay Asher which was adapted for the screen by Brian Yorkey for Netflix. The story is about a student named Hannah Baker who commits suicide after making seven double-sided cassette tapes detailing the reasons why she did it, all of which were revenge-oriented.
For example, the first person to receive the tapes was boy named Justin who she had a crush on and who spread rumors that they did more than just kiss, which led to her being branded as a slut. The next person to receive the tapes was a boy named Alex who published a “hot or not” list comparing girls in the class where Hannah was listed as being hot – a label that only perpetuated the myth about her supposed promiscuity. The third person was a girl named Jessica who had a fight with Hannah over the list and slapped her so hard it left a scar on her forehead.
The revenge list goes on and on, revealing seriously dysfunctional behavior on the part of teens who stalked her, took unwanted photos of her, treated her like a slut, and exposed her personal writings to the school – all of which led to her committing suicide.
Even though the show’s producers say they hoped the series would help those who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, the series is raising concerns from suicide prevention experts about “the potential risks posed by sensationalized treatment of youth suicide.”
This is because of how graphically the series depicts a suicide death and addresses in “wrenching detail” other difficult issues such as bullying, rape, drunk driving and slut shaming.
“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series,” says a guidance issued by the National Association of School Psychologists. “It’s powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”
It could also be aggravating the already serious problem of teen suicide. Current statistics reveal that suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24 with 90 percent of these deaths fueled by mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and drug or alcohol abuse. Problems at home or in school are also contributing factors to these tragic deaths – problems this new series presents in all of their inglorious detail.
Even more concerning is the fact that suicide is imitative with studies indicating that the more publicized the suicide, the more suicides follow.
According to research conducted by Dr. Madelyn Gould of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, heightened newspaper coverage following a young adult’s death is linked to increased suicide deaths. The more sensational the reporting, the more details given and the prominence of the story are all factors in how many suicides follow. This is particularly true with young adults where copycat suicide is four times higher than in any other age group.
For all of these reasons, experts as well as educators are warning parents not to let their teens view these shows.
“We want to be proactive with our community and let them know that students are hearing about this show and watching this show,” Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson Derek Turner told NBCWashington after several middle schools sent letters home to parents. “It does have some very adult themes that discuss suicide and romanticizes it.”
Experts at Headspace, an Australia-based teen suicide prevention service, also issued a warning citing the “dangerous content” of the show saying it was depicting suicide in an irresponsible way.
However, for families whose sons and daughters have already watched the series, Aleteia’s Paul Asay says “the show may open a door to some much-needed dialogue. The show can be a catalyst to talk about the issues dramatized therein — and maybe even an opportunity to have a difficult, painful, but much-needed conversation.”
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