At the time of its release in March of 2017, Netflix’s hit show 13 Reasons Why (adapted from the book by Jay Asher) was supposed to “start a conversation” regarding mental health, bullying, and suicide. However, as we approach the launch of the show’s third season, said conversation ultimately boils down to a shared trauma of teenagers across the country who were forever scarred by the graphic images and the overall unhealthy narrative of the show. In addition to severe criticism, it has now been discovered that, following the show’s release, there was a nearly 30% increase in teen suicides - the highest spike in more than ten years.
Through all our work in suicide prevention and research on how to deter school shootings, if there is one thing we have learned-- it’s that these incidences are contagious. There are copycat suicides, and there are copycat school shootings-- almost always motivated by depictions like this. With all due respect, if we (a group of teenagers scattered across the country) can understand that, then Netflix, a company worth nearly a billion dollars, should be able to as well. Their support of this show, at the expense of children’s lives, is not neglectful - it’s deliberate. That is why we are choosing to #BOYCOTTNETFLIX.
During its promo for the second season, the show had a PR campaign including videos of the cast discussing the severity of the topic. Alisha Boe, who played Jessica, stated: “if you are struggling with [issues related to substance abuse, sexual assault, or suicide]... you may want to watch it with a trusted adult.” This shows that those involved in the show's creation clearly understand who they were speaking t
oo- and continued anyway. Despite the insanely inappropriate, adult, and dangerous nature of the show, its main demographic is 12-16 year olds, and that’s clearly not a problem for its producers. vggb
In order to maintain a healthy dialogue concerning this topic, there are clear “do-s and don’t-s” in showing suicide on-screen. The production of 13 Reasons Why went against basically every one of the suggestions made by professionals in the field, including but not limited to:
Expanding on the last reason, there is a plethora of evidence noting the detrimental effect that graphic portrayals of suicide and school shooters can have. Giving notoriety to these issues paints them as ways to get attention or be understood. Both Hannah and Tyler (the almost-school-shooter) used these acts as ways to respond to the mistreatment they faced, and them doing so was blamed on the people who hurt them rather than themselves. This encourages others who have experienced these issues to put themselves in their shoes and even legitimize or rationalize following in their footsteps.
Hannah (the character that commits suicide in the show) is portrayed as an innocent victim, while those who mistreated her are literally held responsible for her death- reasons ranging from rudeness to rape. The idea that people should be ostracized for their mistakes- lumped in with rapists over simple disagreements or petty fights- is ridiculous, and sets an unhealthy precedent for how teens (and people in general) are taught to treat one another.
The show attempts to rationalize and legitimize those who feel that it is their fault, rather than leaving the actual responsibility up to the person who committed suicide. Of course our interactions with each other play a role in how we feel and what we do, but what one person does is ultimately up to that person. The actions of one should never be blamed on others, and family members deserve better than to be indirectly blamed for a tragedy that they would never want to happen.
While the issues that Hannah faced were very real, the show never held her accountable for her own actions. She had just as many flaws as the
“perpetrators” of her suicide, yet she was still seen as a martyr. Teens should be taught to try to take control of their lives, not to give up and refuse to be responsible for their own faults.
Not once does 13 Reasons Why show a character willingly getting help, and actually portrays the act of doing so as pointless.
Virtually every adult in 13 Reasons Why is portrayed as either ignorant or
uncaring. While there are generational gaps in the acceptance and willingness to de-stigmatize mental illness, and many parents are unable or unwilling to provide the care for their children that they need, teens should never be taught to expect or accept that neglect. Good parents will help their children, and if a child does not have a parent that can do so- they should be encouraged to find help elsewhere- not to give up entirely because they can’t stomach a conversation.
In order to adequately address violence within schools, improvements to mental health infrastructure are critical. 13 Reasons Why fails to recognize this reality and encourages students to seek help from untrained, unqualified people.
From being responsible for a friend's suicide to detoxing a classmate from heroin, 13 Reasons Why teaches kids to prioritize each other's problems over their own health and safety instead of getting adults involved.
Characters struggling with mental illness in 13 Reasons Why are portrayed very differently from people who exhibit symptoms consistent with any actual mental illness, and actually perpetuate harmful stereotypes about depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia (Clay in season two).
Students On Safety recognizes the lack of psychological assistance to many of those who inflict violence upon others, however, shooters should never be considered victims and should not be sympathized with any more than any other murderer or criminal. The manner in which 13 Reasons Why portrays Tyler (the potential shooter) is very similar to Hannah- they are both subject to bullying or social but refuse to accept their role in the way they’re treated and ultimately make the problem worse. This is practically a call to action to every person in this demographic, stating that shooting up their school would evoke the same emotional reaction that Hannah’s suicide, finally making them understood and pitied by their peers. This is INCREDIBLY dangerous.
Elena Premack Sandler, Psychology Today- 4/24/17
Alise Morales, Betches- 4/24/17
Carrie Witmer, Business Insider- 5/2/17
Zoe Williams, The Guardian- 4/26/17
Deborah Serani, Psychology Today- 5/16/17
Mark Henick, CNN- 5/13/17
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