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Is "13 Reasons Why" More Harmful than Helpful?


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May 28, 2018

Is "13 Reasons Why" More Harmful than Helpful?

The recent debut of season 2 of Netflix's "13 Reasons Why" has re-sparked the debate from its first season about suicide in teenagers and young adults, its potential glamorization, and the harmful impact it has on the high school-aged generation.

Some critics praise "13 Reasons Why" for bringing light to important and serious topics that are consistently undermined and stigmatized in today's society: suicide and mental health. By placing it front and center in a popular new Netflix series, these topics take on an unavoidable role when watching and responding to this show. Although bringing awareness to this prevalent topic is beneficial, that is not enough. When suicide is discussed in any setting, it must be framed in a safe and respectful manner. Frankly, "13 Reasons Why" does not accomplish this goals.

"13 Reasons Why" is a dangerous show for a number of reasons. Firstly, its premise is glamorized and portrayed as a mysterious "witch-hunt" for who is responsible for Hannah Baker's death. The tapes, the suspects, the mourning...these are all components of the show that grasp a viewer's attention and allow them to process the show as being engaging, mysterious, and even enviable in some cases. When I say enviable, obviously this does not include the entire audience. However, since Netflix is widely accessible with a relatively cheap monthly subscription, it can reach a diverse audience. Young adults who are watching this show may be struggling or have struggled with suicidality themselves, and this show can be a "trigger" for them. In light of that point, this show does not provide the ample amount of suicide prevention resources that it has a responsibility to by featuring this sensitive topic. The show does put up a PSA at the end of each episode; however, it should go into more detail with the many suicide prevention organizations, life-lines, and resources that are available for this population.

Lastly, to reduce the aforementioned problem, the topic of suicide should be framed by "safe-messaging." This term means presenting the content in a safe way that encourages help-seeking behavior and accessing support. Unfortunately, there were certain components of this show that failed to use safe-messaging in that it went against suggestions that have been shown to result in positive behaviors and outcomes.

Overall, I don't support this show. I feel as if the producers could have asked for more guidance from suicide prevention organizations as well as other mental health professionals to create a safe, appropriate, and de-stigmatizing atmosphere for the topic of suicide prevention.

Do you believe this show is more hurtful than helpful to its' audience of young adults?


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