Culture

We Asked Headspace Why ’13 Reasons Why’ Is So Harmful For Young Australians

"It gives the sense that you can suicide and retrospectively feel resolved, and that’s not what happens."

This post discusses suicide.

Netflix’s latest teen drama, 13 Reasons Why, has received extremely mixed reviews since its release in March. The very premise of the show is divisive: a teenage girl, Hannah (Katherine Langford), recounts why she took her own life over 13 cassette tapes which are sent to another teenager, Clay (Dylan Minnette). It’s a very upsetting show!

Today the National Youth Mental Health Foundation headspace, has released a warning to viewers of 13 Reasons Why following concerns raised by schools, parents and young people across Australia about its distressing content. The national online and phone counselling service has received a numbers of calls and emails directly related to the Netflix show.

National Manager of headspace School Support, Kristen Douglas, told Junkee that she found 13 Reasons Why irresponsible for suggesting that young people could achieve “resolution” for issues like bullying, after they had taken their own lives. “I think the biggest issue is that it gives the sense that you can suicide and retrospectively feel resolved about all of the things that have happened to you, and that’s not what happens,”she said.

“Sadly when you die, you die, and a lot of young people don’t fully understand the finality of death. [The show] gives this very real sense of getting resolution for the their issues, which doesn’t happen obviously.”

Douglas says that headspace have received “a number of concerns” from young people who have been distressed after watching 13 Reasons Why and also from teachers who have encountered students “airing their distress in classrooms the day after watching”.

When asked if there was a responsible way to depict suicide on television, Douglas said that one of the issues with 13 Reasons Why is that its target audience are the demographic “most vulnerable when it comes to suicide”.

“Particularly around exposure and vulnerability for that age group, kids are very impulsive,” she said. “I also think [they should have considered] not describing method, not going anywhere near graphic content or details. It’s that information that really causes risk.” Douglas said that this risk could be tempered by including “help seeking” information that teenagers could utilise if they were upset by the depictions of self harm.

In Junkee’s review of the show, Erin Stewart says that the “biggest disappointment” of 13 Reasons Why is the final episode, when Hannah’s death is gratuitously shown. “The scene is sickening and overly salacious, and carries with it all the worst risks of bad representation,” she writes. “It also undermines the story.”

Douglas said that she was concerned that 13 Reasons Why hadn’t taken into consideration that their young audience “can easily connect with a narrative like that” when exposing teenagers to this sort of content is extremely risky. “Across the board I think a number of parents and kids have been really impacted by this,” she said.

If you need support, both Lifeline on 13 11 14 and the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 offer 24-hour assistance. For further information about youth mental health, both headspace and Reach Out can provide  guidance. You can also talk to a medical professional or someone you trust.

If you have watched 13 Reasons Why and feel distressed, headspace can be reached via email or over the phone.