Th1rteen R3asons Why is a young adult novel written by Jay Asher (2007) about a teenage girl who commits suicide. The novel was adapted into a 13-episode Netflix original series titled 13 Reasons Why and has received wide-ranging criticism.
The show follows 17 year old Clay Jenson (Dylan Minnette) as he listens to seven double sided cassette tapes recorded by 17 year old Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) before she took her life. The tapes detail the 13 reasons that led to Hannah Baker’s depression and subsequent suicide. The ‘nouveau murder mystery’ highlights the impact of bullying in schools, young people’s mental health, resilience and the effect that an accumulation of seemingly trivial incidences combined with traumatic events can have on a young person. Some episodes of 13 Reasons Why begin with disclaimers about the graphic nature of the content.
The Netflix series, which is currently the platform’s most popular show, has been praised for revealing an ‘un-sensationalised portrait’ of American high school life as well as shining a light on the ‘rough but sadly familiar’ events Hannah Baker suffered, which include loneliness, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. However, the show has also been criticised for ‘glamourizing suicide’ with some mental health organisations warning that the series could have a damaging effect on vulnerable viewers. Notably, a mental health group in Australia has reported a steady increase in calls and emails to suicide helplines. Kristen Douglas, national manager at Australian mental health charity Headspace commented: “There is a responsibility for broadcasters to know what they are showing and the impact that certain content can have on an audience – and on a young audience in particular” adding that “national and international research clearly indicates the very real impact and risk to harmful suicide exposure leading to increased risk and possible suicide contagion”. Despite Australia’s strict guidelines around suicide depiction, Douglas believes that part of the issue lies behind the access young people have to international content, which makes it more difficult to exercise consistent warnings. (more…)