After a slew of well-reasoned backlash over 13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s newest, super-buzzed-about suicide revenge fantasy aimed at a teen audience, the streaming giant is adding new trigger warnings to the show.
“There has been a tremendous amount of discussion about our series ‘13 Reasons Why.’ While many of our members find the show to be a valuable driver for starting important conversation with their families, we have also heard concern from those who feel the series should carry additional advisories,” Netflix said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, which first reported the news.
The series, based on the wildly successful young adult novel by Jay Asher, is structured around telling the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a high school student who killed herself, through a series of 13 tapes she recorded for her classmates in preparation for her suicide. On the tapes, Hannah details how her classmates’ actions—and inaction—directly contributed to her decision to end her life.
The show previously included warnings at the start of two episodes that included graphic depicts of rape and, finally, Hannah’s suicide, along with 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons, a 30-minute documentary you may have accidentally started watching after the final episode, which directs viewers to visit 13ReasonsWhy.info for suicide prevention resources in their area.
But mental health professionals raised serious concerns after the show’s release for breaking basically every rule about how to responsibly depict suicide.
In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah is depicted as a complicated, beautiful young woman who literally appears as a vision in white from beyond the grave to her former crush, the nice guy protagonist Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette). She uses a series of 13 tapes to blame a cast of schoolmates for her death—all of whom have inflicted some level of cruelty on her—and to settle scores. Perhaps worst of all, the show graphically depicts (spoiler alert, I guess) Hannah slitting her wrists in a bath tub, providing a vivid how-to for anyone who’s already thinking about suicide.
The National Association of School Psychologists said as much in a statement cautioning “vulnerable youth” and anyone thinking about suicide against watching the series.
“Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide,” the statement read.
By all metrics (read: meme-ability) the show has been a roaring success with its core demographic. Teens have made vaguely horrifying “music videos” using the app Music.ly to lip-sync along with some of Hannah’s more memorably morose lines (“I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended.”) Younger viewers are also the driving force behind the “Welcome to your tape” meme, a take on Hannah’s foreboding introduction to each new, implicated listener.
It’s not that teens aren’t mature enough for a TV show about suicide. It’s that 13 Reasons Why serves up the very worst about how we talk about suicide: glamorizing the deceased for the manner in which they took their life, blaming others for causing a person to die by suicide, and framing suicide as a way to teach lessons to those who wronged us.
Trigger warnings are admirable, but Netflix’s latest effort to address the controversy amount to window dressing a show who’s portrayal of suicide remains fatally flawed.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255