Less than two weeks ago, Netflix released the highly anticipated teen drama 13 Reasons Why.
It begins with Clay Jensen receiving a package containing 13 audio tapes. When he presses play, he hears the voice of Hannah Baker – a close friend who recently died by suicide.
Each tape is for a different person in her life, all of whom are said to have contributed to her death.
Laura Brodnik, Tiffany Dunk and I argue about whether 13 Reasons Why is powerful or problematic, on the latest episode of The Binge. Post continues below.
In the final episode, Hannah’s death is portrayed in graphic detail. The blood, her curdling screams, and the method by which she died has replayed in my mind numerous times since I watched it.
In fact, it’s the first time I’ve found a television scene too graphic to watch in full.
I felt sick.
Headlines have dubbed the show “smart and compelling,” a “brilliant study of teenage life,” with Forbes claiming that it’s Netflix’s “best show in years”. The Quad says, “You must watch ’13 Reasons Why'” and The Fix argues “… there is something relatable in this show for everyone, no matter your age…”
The reviews that almost universally classify 13 Reasons Why – a television show that explicitly depicts suicide – as ‘essential viewing’, are at best misguided and naive, and at worst, dangerous and irresponsible.
It might very well be a fascinating and brilliantly crafted teen drama.
But it’s also a suicide manual.
13 Reasons Why completely disregards the guidelines for safe and responsible reporting on suicide.
These guidelines do not exist to silence critical conversations around suicide. They exist, simply, to save lives.
Mindframe advises that we don't a) divulge the method of suicide or b) refer to any explicit details left in a suicide note. These two points form the entire premise of 13 Reasons Why.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says media coverage can "romanticise, glamorise, sanitise and normalise" suicide, and overall, studies show a significant relationship between exposure to suicide and increases in suicidal behaviour.
There are many who argue that suicide is something we need to speak about more openly; that having the conversation is part of the solution and not the problem. And to that I say - we can talk about suicide without explicitly showing it.
The danger inherent in showing it is not a matter of opinion. It's a matter of reputable fact.
Some of the Australian services offering mental health support. (Post continues after gallery.)
As I scoured forums and threads, readings reviews of 13 Reasons, I came across individuals who said they'd been left in a "really bad place" after having watched the series. A number of mental health advocates are troubled by what is now one of the most popular series on Netflix.
Are we about to see a sudden spike in people dying by suicide?
Moreover, none of the 13 episodes offered any resources for individuals who may be struggling. Instead, references are left for the bonus episode.
But it's not just the graphic portrayal of Hannah's death that's problematic. The title itself fundamentally misrepresents suicide.
No suicide can be reduced to '13 reasons why'. This obscures its complexity.
It also sends the message that anyone who has been touched by suicide could and should have done more. As though the onus lies on the friends and families of the deceased.
This is a narrative that mental health workers and therapists have spent decades attempting to undo.
Bizarrely, throughout the entire series, 13 Reasons fails to even mention the words 'mental illness' or 'depression', which is inexcusable given its ending. It misses an enormous opportunity to open up a discussion about mental illness, which is a contributing factor in at least 90 per cent of suicides.
For more compelling TV theories, listen to the latest episode of The Binge.
Instead, suicide is incorrectly seen as the end point of a linear path. As Alyse Ruriani writes for The Mighty, "bullying does not directly cause suicide." Again - it is never that simple.
Suicide, for Hannah Baker, is the ultimate act of redemption. It's powerful. It's vengeful. It's the only way justice is properly served.
People suddenly care.
If that isn't a glorification of suicide - I'm unsure of what is.
13 Reasons is the furthest thing from "must-see" viewing that I could imagine. There are countless people who mustn't engage with this series.
Their lives might literally depend on it.
If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre here or chat to them online, here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.