**This article discusses suicide and sexual assault.**
Ever since the release of Netflix's original series, 13 Reasons Why, the topic of suicide has been increasingly present. Within the first week of its release the series seemed to have gained a cult following and endless appraisal, but is this a good thing? Fans of the show claim that it takes an eloquent approach to the topic of suicide and brings awareness to an important issue. However, while suicide is a serious topic that we should be discussing and bringing awareness to, displaying suicides in popular culture and fictionalized settings is not the way to go.
About a week ago, 23-year-old Franco Alonso Lazo Medrano of Peru committed suicide, leaving behind tapes for everyone in his life he claimed led him to kill himself. While Medrano did not indicate if he was influenced by 13 Reasons Why, it's clear that it made its impact. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, the main plot centers around people who received tapes from a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide. The tapes disclosed why they were responsible for her death. So, with the current popularity of the Netflix show, there is not a doubt in my mind that this was a copycat suicide.
This shouldn't be surprising, nor is it a new concept. When suicides are portrayed in creative works, there is often a spike in suicide rates, and more specifically suicides mimicking the one depicted in the story. One of the best known cases of this was a result of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's book "The Sorrows of Young Werther." Following the book's publication, many young men mimicked the main character, Werther's death, who shot himself after being rejected by the woman he loved. Many of these men went so far as to even dress like the character. Because of this, the term "Werther Effect" has been coined to describe copycat suicides from creative works.
Examples of other fictional works that triggered an increase in suicides are Romeo and Juliet and Heathers (1989). Celebrity suicides have also been known to cause a spark in suicide, the most popular being Kurt Cobain and Marilyn Monroe.
All of this being said, a television show centered around the suicide of a young, heartbroken girl who blames the people around her for her death should be considered unacceptable, especially considering that the audience is majorly comprised of teenagers.
Teenagers tend to be more susceptible to suicide than other age groups. Their brains are still developing, and lead them to be more vulnerable to mood disorders and suicidal thoughts.
Suicide is an incredibly difficult subject to discuss in the entertainment industry, and is more often than not dangerous. It is understandable that Selena Gomez and the other producers of this show wanted to shine awareness onto an issue that they were passionate about and felt needed to be discussed. However, in doing so it has the potential to make suicidal people more driven to commit suicide. Ron Avi Astor, of the University of Southern California, discussed the show at the annual American Educational Research Association meeting, alongside his associate, Rami Benbenishty. During his presentation he brought up a crucial point in regards to the dangers of the show, "A kid who's not suicidal may see that and go, 'That's messed up.' The group that has tried it, they say, 'Yeah, that's how I want to make my statement.'"
What he said makes a lot of sense. Most of the people giving 13 Reasons Why rave reviews for being an important, raw discussion on the topic of suicide aren't the people critics are worried about. No one is concerned about neurotypical individuals deciding to take their lives as a result of the show. When they watch the show they think, "wow, I can't believe this happens, we need to fix this," but people who have a history of depression and suicidal thoughts might be thinking, "maybe I can do that too."
I'm not trying to make generalizations about suicidal individuals; I am aware that everyone is different and this show may not impact everyone the same way. But the fact that there has already been someone who felt inspired to take their own life as a result of watching this show demonstrates that this is a valid and important argument to make. I am certain that there are people out there, young adults and teenagers in particular, who are watching the show and relating to Hannah Baker who successfully took her life which, as a result, made the people around her guilt stricken about how they treated her. Everyone who has been hurt by another person wants that person to realize what they have done to them. Everyone wants revenge sometimes, it's human nature. Hannah had to deal with realistic issues that many people go through. To some people, her suicide could be perceived as the "perfect revenge."
Which leads me to my next point. Many critics of the show believe that it suggests that suicide is understandable in certain situations. While I am one hundred percent confident that this was not the intention of the show creators, I do agree with this belief. Hannah had a tough life. She was raped, constantly bullied, and the person she loved couldn't express his feelings to her. These are just some of the reasons she justified her suicide and unfortunately, they are things a lot of people go through. While this was meant to promote kindness and acceptance in the world, people are still suffering from bullying, sexual assault, and other harmful actions. If someone is in a really bad mental state and they watch this show, they might see her suicide as something considered "understandable" because of what she had gone through, making them feel compelled to do the same. But it's not. And the show creators know that it's not.
That's part of what makes this such a tricky discussion. Obviously the people who created and worked on the show intended to promote awareness of suicide, and to encourage people to be kinder. I strongly believe they had good intentions, but no matter what they did with it, it was doomed from the start. No matter what they did, some people were going to see themselves in Hannah, see what she did, and try to do the same.
There has been a sharp increase in calls to suicide hotlines, and Palm Beach County Schools in Florida have reported an increase of self-mutilation and suicide threats among elementary and middle school students since the show began. I am sure other schools are encountering similar issues, as many of them have released statements to parents warning them of the show and to monitor the behavior of at-risk students.
If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts I recommend avoiding the popular series. Please don't hesitate to reach out to counselors, or people you trust. Your life is worth so much, you deserve to live it. If you truly believe that no one cares for you or believes in you, that's not true, because if no one else, I do. Even if I don't know you, or you don't know me, I know that you are worth something and that you can do incredible things. If you are contemplating suicide, don't hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available 24 hours a day, it's confidential, and there is an Online Chat option available to you if you don't like talking on the phone. These resources are here for you because people care and you matter.
Your life is worth so much, no matter what has happened to you. Don't take it away.