“13 Reasons Why” not good for mental health

Netflix show glamorizes depression and suicide.

Kaitlyn Jorgenson
Staff Writer

The names Bella Herndon and Priscilla Chui may not ring a bell, but the Netflix Show 13 Reasons Why might. 13 Reasons Why is a TV show that depicts the life of 17 year old Hannah Baker who leaves behind 13 tapes as the ultimate eff-you to the people who led her to commit suicide. 

These two girls committed suicide just four days apart in a manner that eerily mimics this Netflix TV show. The outraged parents have since blamed 13 Reasons Why for their deaths and have filed petitions asking Netflix to cancel the show.

Netflix released a statement to KTVU expressing condolences for the teens, but said the series has opened up a dialogue for many others. 

“Our hearts go out to these families during this difficult time,” the statement said. “We have heard from many viewers that 13 Reasons Why has opened up a dialogue among parents, teens, schools and mental health advocates around the difficult topics depicted in the show. We took extra precautions to alert viewers to the nature of the content and created a global website to help people find local mental health resources.”

Nice try Netflix, but I’m going to call you out on your BS. 

In all actuality, 13 Reasons Why blatantly ignored many things that mental health professionals warn against such as the glamorization or romanticization of suicide and the graphic depictions of self harm and sexual assault displayed in this TV Show, or portraying suicide as a way to get “revenge” on your peers.

Netflix and it’s producers did not bother to take into account the health and safety of the shows intended audience and instead Netflix exploited their viewers purely to maximize profits.

The National Association of School Psychologist states that: “We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.

Unfortunately, adult characters in the show, including the second school counselor who inadequately addresses Hannah’s pleas for help, do not inspire a sense of trust or ability to help.” 

According to an Article by Sophie Gilbert in The Atlantic, an editorial published at JAMA commenting on the study stated that teens are particularly vulnerable when it comes to binge viewing.

“This immersion into the story and images may have a particularly strong effect on adolescents,” it argued, “whose brains are still developing the ability to inhibit certain emotions, desires, and actions.”

Netflix and the producers of 13 Reasons Why, have repeatedly disregarded advice from mental-health experts not to release the first season, all the while claiming that the show is “raising awareness around the subject of suicide, banishing stigmas, and leading to more discussion of a sensitive topic.”

But as this study shows, focusing public attention on suicide without taking into account guidelines to minimize harm can be detrimental, and even dangerous.

Google searches about suicide rose by almost 20 percent in 19 days after the show came out, representing between 900,000 and 1.5 million more searches than usual regarding the subject. Leading to a number of “copycat” suicides and what suicide prevention experts call a suicide-contagion effect. 

If Netflix had truly wanted to raise a tough discussion about suicide prevention, they should have taken a few tips from the JED Foundation who gives some examples of how depictions of suicide might lower risk.

Some of these would include depictions in which people who are struggling are helped and supported by friends and professionals, treatment for mental health problems being effective, and stories of people overcoming suicidal challenges.

Netflix’s insensitivity to a complex subject shows that they do not want to raise awareness for suicide prevention, and their refusal to remove this show proves that they have more self interest in their investment than they have concern for public health.

So, why boycott Nike when you can boycott Netflix? P.S. you can subscribe as a student to Spotify and get free Hulu for only 5.99 a month. You’re welcome. 

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr. 

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