Netflix’s popular new series 13 Reasons Why has courted controversy from the start. The program, produced by Selena Gomez and targeted towards a young adult market, features graphic depiction of suicide, rape and other violence. The series follows the events surrounding the suicide of a teenage girl and follows her classmates as they try to piece together the “why” of her suicide.
The series’ reception has been a mixed bag at best. While being praised for realistic depiction of the issues of suicide, a school in Edmonton, Canada banned talk about the show entirely on the premises. Another Canadian school, Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, went so far as to claim on its website that the series was guilty of “glamorization of suicidal behavior and [depicting] negative portrayals of helping professionals.” A letter sent home with students warned against the possibly triggering nature of the program: “The discussion that is unfolding at school is troubling. This series is rated Mature and the theme is the suicide of a high school student. This show includes graphic violence (rape) and gore, profanity, alcohol/drugs/smoking, and frightening/intense scenes. The purpose of this email is to provide you with this information. Please let your child know that discussion of ’13 Reasons Why’ is not permitted at school due to the disturbing subject matter.”
According to a recent study, Google searches experienced an alarming uptick in responses related to “how to commit suicide” (26% increase), “how to kill yourself (9% increase) and “how to commit suicide” (18% increase). Thankfully, a small increase in those seeking help was also concomitant with the show’s release. Searches for “suicide hotline” increasing by 12% and a 23% increase in searches for “suicide prevention.”
According to John W. Ayers of the San Diego State University, in conversation with Fatherly “Psychiatrists have expressed grave concerns, because the show ignores the World Health Organization’s validated media guidelines for preventing suicide,” Ayers was coauthor on a study showing an increase in suicidal ideation based on internet searches concomitant with the program’s release.
“Psychiatrists have expressed grave concerns, because the show ignores the World Health Organization’s validated media guidelines for preventing suicide,” John W. Ayers of San Diego State University, coauthor on the recently published study, told Fatherly. WHO’s guidelines aim to discourage content that centers around suicide.
Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds, the target market for the series. Ayers and his colleagues are calling on Netflix to remove the show or at least alter it to conform to World Health Organization’s (WHO) standards related to programming featuring teen suicide. “I’d create a show that offers a message those contemplating suicide need to hear—a success story of how someone contemplating suicide sought and was given help, and persevered to have a full life. This is where 13 Reasons Why totally misses the mark,” Ayers offered.