Written by Melissa Campos. Multimedia Assistant
13 Reasons Why is one of the most controversial television series that exists today. After its initial release on Netflix last year, the show sparked a large debate surrounding how suicide should be depicted in fictional media. While the shows’ creators claim that their intentions with the series were to raise awareness and start a discussion about adolescent mental health, the way in which the script was written and graphical portrayal on screen has done more harm than good.
The first season of the show depicts the life of Hannah Baker leading up to her suicide just months after her transfer to a new high school. Following her death, she leaves 13 cassette tapes addressed to different people whose actions she describes as having contributed to her suicide. Although the show takes place after her death, Hannah’s character is still very prominent during vivid flashbacks and narration that takes place over the entirety of the first season.
While I believe that the show does depict in an impactful way the dangers behind teen bullying and the repercussions that ones’ harmful actions can have on others, it also glorifies suicide and sends the unrealistic message that suicide can be an act of revenge. In other words, I believe the show sends a strong message to bullies, but sends an even stronger and more problematic message to those suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts. It suggests that suicide can be used to send a message, and that there’s no use in seeking help.
Various mental health professionals have claimed that the way in which Hannah’s suicide is portrayed in the show is extremely harmful towards those suffering from mental health issues, particularly depression. One psychologist who was contacted to provide guidance for the show even recommended that Netflix not proceed with the project.
13 Reasons Why also directly went against recommendations for addressing suicide in media that were compiled by experts on suicide prevention. These recommendations warn that suicide risk can increase when the suicide method is explicitly described and the death is glamorized. The first season already breaks those suggestions by graphically depicting Hannah’s suicide on screen in the final episode. Her death is also dangerously referenced and talked about throughout the entirety of the series.
The first season contributed to an increase in suicide contagion. Suicide contagion, or “copycat suicide,” occurs when one’s suicidal thoughts increase due to exposure to suicide and suicidal behaviour around them, whether it be through people in their life or the media. Global News revealed that a number of copycat suicides were reported after the release of the first season.
They also reported that after the shows’ initial release, hospital visits increased as well. In a separate article, they discussed a study which reported that suicide-related searches on Google rose by 900,000 to 1.5 million searches within the 19 days after the show was released, with the top search being “how to commit suicide.” So while the show sparked a discussion surrounding suicide, it was definitely not as positive as the shows’ creators would have hoped.
This begs the question: if the first season contributed more towards a harmful depiction of suicide than a preventative one, why is Netflix releasing a second one?
Of course, I understand that getting paid probably plays a role. Nowadays, pretty much everything is motivated by money. But I think that funded projects should still heavily consider the implications of what they are portraying on screen.
There is really nothing that a second season could possibly add to the storyline. Hannah Baker died, and her suicide sparked a discussion surrounding how her death could have been prevented had she gotten the support and help she needed, and had those around her not bullied her in such an extreme and disgusting way. The book which the show was based off of even ends with Clay Jenson passing the tapes off to the next person and reaching out to another suicidal teen to offer support. However, the show unnecessarily deviates from that, introducing the plot of Hannah’s parents receiving a copy of the tapes and suing the high school that she attended.
There is no need for another season. Why is the show being dragged on? Initially, there was a message that the creators were trying to convey. Even if it was conveyed poorly, at least it was something. But now, with the release of a second season, this controversial discussion is being re-instigated; the show risks impacting those suffering from mental health issues in the same negative way that it did with the first season.
I appreciate the effort that the show creators are making in correcting their previous mistakes in the second season. They’ve created a website that provides various resources for people to visit if they suffer from suicidal thoughts and/or depression, including a discussion guide for parents. They have also included a message from the cast members at the beginning of the second season warning that the show may not be suitable for those suffering from the issues addressed within the story. While this is a step in the right direction, these measures can still be taken without the creation of a second season. Yes, create the website and add the video warning at the beginning of all the previous episodes, but there’s no need to keep the storyline going.
I will admit, I liked the show. The book had a strong message to convey, and while I didn’t completely agree with the extreme depictions and additional side plots that the Netflix series added, I did like the message that it helped to communicate about bullying and providing support. But even as someone who found the show interesting, I finished the series having no desire to see what came next. After having watched the first episode of the second season for the purposes of writing this article, I can conclude that the ongoing court case surrounding the plot has nothing substantial to add to the overall story and message of the show.
13 Reasons Why, I’m still looking for the reason why you had to make another season. It seems to me that there are more than 13 reasons why no one should watch it.