‘13 Reasons Why’ Fuels Increase in Calls to Suicide Helplines in Australia

13 Reasons Why  - Katherine Langford - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Netflix

Mental health advocacy groups like Headspace have criticized the Netflix series, which they believe "exposes viewers to risky suicide content."

Australian mental health organizations have issued warnings against Netflix teen series 13 Reasons Why after receiving a "steadily increasing stream of calls and emails" from teens, parents and schools about the program since its launch in March.

The show centers on 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who takes her own life and leaves behind cassette recordings for 13 people who she says were part of why she killed herself.

At the core of criticisms about the Selena Gomez-produced show is its graphic depiction of teen suicide and the negative portrayal of teenage behaviors including bullying and sexual assault.

Kristen Douglas, a national manager at youth mental health foundation, Headspace, said on Tuesday the show “exposes viewers to risky suicide content”.

“National and international research clearly indicates the very real impact and risk to harmful suicide exposure leading to increased risk and possible suicide contagion. People have said the show has triggered their own vulnerabilities and made them consider whether suicide is a possible option for them," Douglas said.

She added that research shows that “if you talk about suicide harmfully, it will lead to further harm. It's far more likely for young people to connect with this content and think it's the answer for them".

Headspace is increasing its messaging about assistance available to schools, parents and teens because the show included “very confronting and graphic messaging and imagery inclusive of suicide method and means,” against clearly established local media guidelines. In addition, the series is one of Netflix’s most watched shows in Australia this year, Douglas said.

Mindframe, a national mental health initiative funded by the Australian government’s National Suicide Prevention Program, has developed non-enforceable guidelines on safe and accurate portrayal of suicide, and, for the most part, Australian journalists, broadcasters and media companies and follow those guidelines.

“There is a responsibility for broadcasters to know what they are showing and the impact that certain content can have on an audience — and on a young audience in particular,” said Dr. Steven Leicester, Douglas’ colleague.

Netflix and the producers have not taken that responsibility seriously enough, according to Jaelea Skehan, director of Mindframe.

Skehan criticized the series, which she has seen in full, in a statement titled 6 Reasons Six Reasons Why I'm concerned about a TV series. Those reasons include: “the suicide scene is graphic and that’s not OK, it sends the wrong messages about suicide risk and the show does nothing to encourage help-seeking and shows adults as a species to be avoided at all costs”.

Netflix has established a website allied to the show that lists crisis helplines in 35 countries in which the series airs.