Since its release in March, the Netflix original 13 Reasons Why has received responses ranging from high praise to intense backlash. While some see the show as a way to destigmatize suicide, others find the images themselves triggering and potentially harmful.
Some of the greatest backlash has come from schools that worry about the safety of their students. Most recently, a school district in Colorado pulled the book by Jay Asher that the series is based on out of circulation, claiming to fear the effects the book may have on its students. This decision brought up the issue of censorship and free speech in the community, with some librarians arguing that pulling the book out of circulation took the decision out of the hands of the students and put the power in the administration.
The Mesa County school district, however, is not the first to examine the triggering nature of 13 Reasons Why. Dr. Jeffrey Ng, the director of counseling and psychological services at Fordham College Lincoln Center, finds that the show goes against the guidelines that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has put forth regarding triggering images. “For people who are already experiencing suicidal thoughts, being exposed to detailed and explicit depictions of suicide can lower their thresholds for acting out on those thoughts. These kinds of depictions can increase suicide risk for those who are already at risk and vulnerable,” he said.
Dr. Ng referred to the final episode of the show, which explicitly showed the main character’s suicide. Many professionals who focus on counseling and suicide prevention have found the show, and this scene in particular, to be potentially harmful. Besides Hannah’s suicide, many who are unhappy with the show argue that it depicts suicide as the result of bullying, and fails to comment on mental health and its role in depression and suicide. Some find that the show doesn’t provide a good “roadmap” for those struggling with depression, and “sensationalizes” suicide.
But why take the book itself out of circulation? Plenty of books deal with difficult topics but remain in circulation, so why 13 Reasons Why? Perhaps it has to do with the attention the show has garnered, considering not only the popularity of the show and the book, but also the co-production of the Netflix series by a name like Selena Gomez. The show was promoted to a degree that made it nearly impossible to not know about it happening. In that way, some may have felt like the idea of suicide was glorified because of how popular the show itself was.
But, regardless of your personal feelings toward the show, 13 Reasons Why has definitely created a new space to talk about the issues of mental health and the stigma surrounding suicide and depression. Whether there should be limitations on who the show is available to is a new conversation to be had.
Featured image courtesy of The New Yorker