Netlfix is now warning vulnerable viewers to avoid watching 13 Reasons Why
When 13 Reasons Why debuted on Netflix earlier this year, it seemed like everyone was talking about it. For a variety of reasons, the show has affected teenagers, teachers, parents, and the psychology community alike. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it’s based on the life and death of a high school student named Hannah Baker who records 13 cassette tapes addressed to the 13 people she feels are responsible for her death by suicide.
A 23-year-old man in Peru recently died by suicide and left behind recordings, allegedly inspired by the series. According to Peruvian news outlet Diario Clarín, the man, Franco Alonso Lazo Medrano, jumped from the balcony of his apartment after yelling, “I can’t stand the heartbreak.” He initially survived the fall, but later died at the hospital. Reports say police found two suicide notes in his home and a list of names of people whom he recorded messages for and claimed they were the ones who drove him to end his own life. It’s an incredibly sad story and unfortunate in every way.
While it’s easy to see how the show might resonate with teenagers in particular, it’s also worth noting that many school counselors and psychologists find the show to be highly problematic. The show presents a simplistic narrative and delves very little into the actual psychology behind suicide itself. Sure, it showcases how intense school bullying can be, and presents the viewpoint of high schoolers accurately, but it also sends a message of suicide being like a big “F YOU” to those left behind. Which is as dangerous as it is reckless when it comes to a subject that should be handled with the utmost care and research.
None of the evidence left at Medrano’s home directly indicated that 13 Reasons Why was responsible or played a role in his suicide, it’s difficult not to make the assumption.
The potential for other, similar deaths is why TeenMentalHealth.org has a downloadable PDF for schools to use to address the show and its impact on teens. “What is needed is a thoughtful approach that respects the ability of many youth to appropriately deal with the series and concurrently be aware of the risks and provide the support that vulnerable youth may need,” the site states. “Talking about suicide responsibly may not increase the risk of suicide. However, sensationalization of the school’s response to the series may have the effect of increasing the probability that vulnerable youth will seek it out and may exacerbate its potential negative impact.”
The enormous response and accompanying backlash caused Netflix to acknowledge its potential harmfulness to the mental health of young viewers. The network strengthened trigger warnings before each episode of the series, hoping to steer those who are vulnerable to the subject of suicide away from the show.
In a statement to Buzzfeed, Netflix writes: “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. Currently the episodes that carry graphic content are identified as such and the series overall carries a TV-MA rating. Moving forward, we will add an additional viewer warning card before the first episode as an extra precaution for those about to start the series and have also strengthened the messaging and resource language in the existing cards for episodes that contain graphic subject matter, including the URL 13ReasonsWhy.info — a global resource center that provides information about professional organizations that support help around the serious matters addressed in the show.”
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.