13 Reasons Why is harmful for mental health

Annie Johnson, Staff Writer

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Trigger Warning: The following piece discusses a show that contains topics such as drug abuse, sexual assault and self-harm.

I have to admit, controversy intrigues me. Whenever I hear about a book, a movie, a show or even a comment that a celebrity has made that has received public backlash, I will want to read it, see it, hear it. So, when I heard about everything surrounding the popular Netflix original show, 13 Reasons Why, of course I had to watch it. My thoughts- you wouldn’t go skydiving without a helmet. That’s the same for putting out potentially triggering content.

A little background— 13 Reasons Why is based on the novel by Jay Asher, which follows the story of Clay Jenson, a high school aged boy grieving the loss of his peer, Hannah Baker, who took her own life. Clay receives cassette tapes that contain Hannah explaining the reasons why she made the decision that she did. There are thirteen reasons, hence the title, 13 Reasons Why. Each of the reasons are tied to a specific person who Hannah claims is responsible for her death.

As Clay listens to the tapes, he learns of the many struggles in her life that resulted in her death. There are several inconsistencies between the show and the novel, but the overall plot is the same.

The Netflix show contains graphic depictions of suicide, sexual assault, drinking and drug use. Following the release of 13 Reasons Why in 2017, the show was bashed both by parents and medical health professionals for failing to provide enough trigger warnings and resources for viewers who could possibly be disturbed by the contents of the show. In 2019, a graphic suicide scene was removed from the show. Though a video of the actors informing the audience of the content in the show and providing a list of resources for those struggling it was still too little, too late.

Libby Ketzback, sophomore, says, “I thought the show was triggering, first, because of the graphic way they portrayed the suicide scene and the way that they tried to paint the rapist into a ‘good guy’ in season three. And I feel like though the show was realistic, it was too realistic. I felt like a lot of the components were too much. The character Skye, with the bipolar disorder who was self-harming, was especially triggering for me.”

According to a survey conducted by University of Michigan medical researchers in 2018, 43 suicidal adolescents who had watched at least one episode of 13 Reasons Why were asked if the show increased their suicide risk. 21, about half, said yes. The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry also researched the effects of the of the show on teenagers in 2017, finding that “the overall suicide rate among 10- to 17-year olds increased significantly in the month immediately following the release of 13 Reasons Why.” Just by watching a television show, teenagers were so impacted that they took their own lives. I’m not one for what ifs, but what if? What if 13 Reasons Why was released with proper trigger warnings and resources? What if the graphic suicide scene wasn’t included? Would that have changed anything?

So, I guess I’m a hypocrite. I believe that the show can be harmful, and yet, I still watch it. Why? Good question. I believe that all causes of controversy must be heard out. While I do believe that this show, and shows similar to these, open a doorway to discuss difficult yet important topics, I also believe it is the responsibility of the creators and producers to provide the necessary and proper precautions accompanied with the media they put out, such as warnings and resources. 13 Reasons Why failed to provide these in a timely manner, resulting in negative effects, such as in increase in suicide and suicide glorification.