21 July 2019
The Netflix series '13 Reasons Why' has come in for strong criticism from mental health professionals over its graphic depiction of rape and suicide. Photo: Netflix
The Netflix series '13 Reasons Why' has come in for strong criticism from mental health professionals over its graphic depiction of rape and suicide. Photo: Netflix

Why Netflix should immediately yank ’13 Reasons Why’ off the air

The recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, and the earlier so-called incel incident in Toronto, remind us of the fact that a lot of people suffer from mental issues. The reasons vary per individual, but in general what they need is good parental, family and community support, discouragement of bullying and harassment, and of course restriction of access to weapons that can cause mass murder.

What exacerbates matters are the presence of popular books, films and shows that glorify wrong behavior. Surprisingly these are not on the Dark Web but are mainstream and freely available to everyone.

’13 Reasons Why’ is a good example. It is a mystery teen drama television series based on the 2007 young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and adapted for the streaming video giant Netflix. The series is about a high school student, Clay Jensen, and his female friend and crush Hannah Baker, a girl who commits suicide after suffering a series of demoralizing events by certain individuals at her school. Before her suicide, Hannah recorded a box full of cassette tapes that details thirteen reasons why she ended her life. The series unfolds as Clay listens to those tapes.

The show has been criticized for showing suicide in a graphic way, and yet still showing the character Hannah in future episodes. For depressed kids who are already contemplating suicide, this show could push them over the edge contrary to the claims of the show’s executive producer, Selena Gomez.

Worse, season two has been approved by Netflix, because of the show’s popularity with young adults – the group most vulnerable to its dangerous message. Immediately Season Two came out with a scene where a male character named Tyler was sodomized with a broom handle in the men’s room, and his head dunked in the toilet.

A study in the widely respected Journal of American Medicine by John W. Ayers, Benjamin M. Althouse, Eric C. Leas, Mark Dredze and Jon-Patrick Allem came up with the finding that Internet searches for how to commit suicide increased after this show started airing.

The finding was significant enough to merit an October 2017 JAMA editorial entitled A Call for Social Responsibility and Suicide Risk Screening, Prevention, and Early Intervention Following the Release of the Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why, by Kimberly H. McManama O’Brien, John R. Knight Jr and Sion K. Harris.

Sadly, with all these medical professional comments, the show’s producers and Netflix chose to go ahead with Season 2, using self serving justifications. One of those justifications is that it has led to increased discussions about suicide. Unfortunately, the graphic nature in which the show depicts suicide violates rules for preventing copycats. And now there’s also the graphic sodomy scene, which many psychologists also discourage certain susceptible individuals from watching.

As Michael B. Pitt, MD, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, in a paper for the May 2018 issue of Pediatrics put it, “the facts remain: 13 Reasons Why violates established best practices surrounding portrayal of suicide in the media. There are clear precedents of similar phenomena leading to increases in suicide and online search behavior about suicide. In the days after the show’s release, a spike was seen in searches about how to kill oneself. Moreover, in our hospital, we found pediatric patients referencing the show as part of their presentations for suicidality. Although opportunity for a dialogue about mental health may be an outcome of this show, we ask, at what cost?”

Netflix and the show’s producers, despite the show’s popularity, should do the right thing and immediately yank this show off the air. Some in the mental health professional community are already saying it violates rules on how to portray suicides, and now it shows even graphic rape.

How many reasons does Netflix need before it pulls this dangerous show off the air? It’s a loaded gun, and once in a while someone can get seriously hurt or triggered.

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Philippines based author, columnist and playwright

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