Netflix‘s massively talked about 13 Reasons Why has sparked much controversy since the 13 episodes were released. The show, based on the novel by Jay Asher, follows a 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who sends out tapes chronicling the reasons that lead her to commit suicide.
The final episode shows Hannah taking her life, with warnings and links to suicide prevention hotlines for those watching. The episode is real and heartbreaking as the audience watches the scene, which is definitely eye-opening for those unaware of how their actions can impact another person’s life so much.
The series received backlash from those who thought that the show’s attempt at creating a discussion about suicide only glamorized it instead. JAMA Internal Medicine took the debate a step further by studying Internet searches following the release of the show. Their study found that “900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected” were made regarding suicide. (The study has yet to include any estimates regarding changes in suicide attempts or calls to national suicide hotlines.)
The authors of the study said, “Our analyses suggest 13 Reasons Why, in its present form, has both increased suicidal awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation.” The study also found that “how to commit suicide,” “commit suicide” and “how to kill yourself” were all searched more highly following the release.
Since filming the show revolves around heavy topics like suicide, sexual assault and bullying, the show even provided therapy dogs to the cast to help with the emotional stress. Katherine Langford, the actress who plays Hannah Baker, spoke about the intensity of the show saying, “We cover so many intense issues. I feel like so much of Hannah’s life, especially the last five episodes, is so tragic that you just have to put that shock aside and get through it. It’s only been after the show and after wrapping that I’ve gone, wow, we really did handle some really heavy stuff.”
Schools have sent home letters regarding the series, and many adults like parents, mental health counselors, and even teachers believe the show should be removed from Netflix. The Washington Post spoke to Kimberly O’Brien, a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who believes the show should be taken down.
“I personally have seen multiple psychiatric admissions where the admission note details the fact that the teen said that they wanted to ‘kill myself the way the girl in 13 Reason Why did,’” she said. “This is extremely concerning because it is showing us, just like it has in research studies, that pictures or detailed descriptions of how or where a person died by suicide can be a factor in vulnerable individuals imitating the attempt.”
Katherine Langford also spoke on the criticism of the show saying, “Of course there’s controversy. I think things like these instigate discussion, which is the important part.”
A popular YouTube series released a video of parents reacting to the trailer of the show, with a few of these parents working in schools and seeing the real life bullying in schools as depicted in the show. Many of the parents were brought to tears by the show and expressed understanding as to why some think the show glamorizes suicide. They all made points that the show starts a good discussion on a topic no one likes to talk about.
Trudi, a parent in the react video, says she watched the show with her 16-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son. “Watching it with them really opened up the door for some interesting conversations, everything from bullying to rape and what is consent and suicide.”
Another parent commented, “The reason there’s such an outrage or whatever from parents is because it’s putting a mirror in front of their faces saying, ‘These are the issues that your kids are dealing with that you’re not.'”
Executive producer Tom McCarthy spoke about being drawn to the plot saying, “As artists, our job is to present and other people can have opinions about it and react. That’s our job. I’m very proud of the show,” he said. “As a dad of two daughters, I listen and take it very seriously. That’s why I did the show. I didn’t have to do a TV show right now. I saw the material and said, ‘Oh dear, nobody is talking about this.'”