Netflix’s latest hit is 13 Reasons Why, a show in which teenager Hannah Baker kills herself, leaving a collection of tapes explaining what happened. Now I can’t describe the show in any more detail, because as someone who has struggled with suicidal urges I decided not to watch it. But it appears I might have made the right decision, because the show has been embroiled in an argument between mental health experts, who say it’s a very risky watch, and the writer, who says their depiction is honest to be clear as to what suicide really entails (i.e. not glamorous).
So, here is Headspace’s Dr Steven Leicester on the show: “The show actually doesn’t present a viable alternative to suicide. The show doesn’t talk about mental illness or depression, doesn’t name those words. My thoughts about the series are that it’s probably done more harm than any good.”
Meanwhile actress Shannon Purser, aka Barb from Stranger Things, was even stronger: “I would advise against watching 13 Reasons Why if you currently struggle with suicidal thoughts or self harm/have undergone sexual assault. There are some very graphic scenes in there that could easily trigger painful memories and feelings. Please protect yourselves.”
This promoted show writer Nic Sheff to send an open letter to Vanity Fair, putting the other side: … "[W]hen it came time to discuss the portrayal of the protagonist’s suicide in 13 Reasons Why, I of course immediately flashed on my own experience. It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like – to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse… It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all – it’s a screaming, agonising, horror.”