When season one of Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’ came out two years ago, it quickly become one of the most controversial Netflix shows. Why? Because it centered around a high school student, who before taking her own life, leaves 13 tapes detailing the reasons why she did it.
In spite of controversy, the show became one of the most streamed shows that year which set off alarms for mental health groups who were fearful of its potential impact on young people. One of their biggest concerns was the scene where the main character takes her own life. Now, national and local suicide prevention advocates are calling Netflix's decision to remove that scene a major win for the mental health community.
Some say ’13 Reasons Why’ started an important conversation. Others say it put people at risk. But what many mental health professionals all seem to agree on is one thing: the aftermath of this show will have lasting impacts on how the entertainment industry handles sensitive content.
Tyler West serves on the national and state American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) board. He said that while the show created a conversation that needed to happen, it didn’t foster safety.
“We think about the contagion effect because whenever you romanticize or glorify suicide in a media with mass reach you can create unsafety,” said West.
Netflix announced in a tweet that after 2 years of discussion with groups like the AFSP they are removing a graphic scene where the main character graphically takes her own life. The tweet explained that they consulted advice from medical experts.
The AFSP came out in support of the move by Netflix saying in part, "when a vulnerable individual sees a fictional character struggling and then dying by suicide, the vulnerable viewer can become more at risk of imitating this suicidal behavior."
West says that's why he feels the decision to remove the scene is a major step in the right direction.
“Netflix realizes that they have to be responsible for the content they provide and the safety of that content,” he said.
While he sees this move as a win, West says it's not the only positive change in the last two years.
Ever since the show has been available, West said it has challenged the organization to make even more impactful strides on a local level.
“We have gone into schools and done trainings all across the state and have made sure our kids know about the suicide prevention hotline and crisis text line,” he said.
Other organizations like Alex’s Army have also been hard at work in the community since the show premiered. Sarah Johnson started Alex’s Army after she lost her 17 year old son to suicide. It's been her mission ever since to educate teens and families on suicide prevention and awareness.
“We have gone to schools and churches and different groups around the state and talked to them and the impact has been huge,” she said.
She says after many conversations with young people about the show, she's thrilled by Netflix’s decision.
“I was grateful that they cut it out because it is so painful for people to see that,” she said.
Johnson hopes other shows will think hard about the content they choose and how they depict sensitive situations.
She says they have to realize that there are real implications for real people.
“When you live the life that I have after my child is gone and you see the pain my daughter and I suffer on a daily basis, you don't want to live that life and you don't want to leave that pain to people you love,” she said.
We can all help prevent suicide. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
If you or someone you know needs help call the lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
For more resources on suicide prevention visit the link below.