Netflix removes controversial suicide scene from 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix series based on the popular book by Jay Asher. The book deals with the aftermath of the suicide of Hannah Baker, who then sends tapes to people involved in her life, detailing the reasons behind her suicide.

The show was then turned into a hit Netflix series, which generated a ton of controversy for a variety of reasons, chief among them being the graphic depiction of Baker’s suicide, which features Baker, in the bathtub, slitting her wrists, crying in pain and ultimately bleeding to death.

I’d written about the show before, and mainly in terrible terms: It’s premier had been tied to a rise in suicide among 10-17 year olds, and the graphic depictions of Baker’s suicide seemed to violate every best practice of reporting on suicide.

Netflix – in response to the controversy – has changed the season finale of Season One, which featured this scene: It has now been been completely removed. In a statement, Netflix said:

“We’ve heard from many young people that 13 Reasons Why encouraged them to start conversations about difficult issues like depression and suicide and get help — often for the first time. As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we’ve been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we’ve decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one.”

As the Hollywood Reporter noted, a variety of anti-suicide groups praised the removal in a joint statement.

The damn shot should never have aired. In prior statements, show creator Brian Yorkey had said that they didn’t want to make suicide look peaceful and thus glamorize it. I get that. And – if you assume that they were operating with the best of intentions – I get that they were trying to make it seem realistic and less abstract.

But, as Vox notes, that’s exactly the problem:

The theory is that for people who struggle with suicidal ideation, anything that can make suicide feel more familiar to them and cause them to keep thinking about it can be dangerous. That’s part of what leads to suicide contagion, the phenomenon in which media coverage of a death by suicide can lead more people to die by suicide.

As I argued in my entry earlier in the week, we have to be very, very careful with how we discuss suicide, lest we inadvertently plant the idea in someone’s head that suicide is somehow acceptable or “freeing.” While the type of discussion which occurred here is different than the blog entry I was writing about, the concept is the same: Be careful in how you discuss suicide, particularly given the way it could impact the most vulnerable of people.

I’m glad Netflix did this. But the show has generated controversy because their is evidence to suggest that it is correlated with more people dying by suicide. That’s a major problem, and they need to do better.

Report: Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why tied to rise in suicides

13 Reasons Why started as a book and then made it’s way to a Netflix series. From the summary:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

The series on Netflix generated no shortage of controversy when it graphically depicted the suicide of Hannah. At the time, there was concern that the depiction of suicide may encourage other vulnerable young adults to do the same.

A new report suggests those fears were well founded.

The brutal findings, courtesy of a study conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

The Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the shows release, after accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates, according to a study published today in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry…The number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 was greater than the number seen in any single month during the five-year period examined by the researchers.

The study notes that suicide rates spiked during the promotion for 13 Reasons Why and in the aftermath of its immediate release, and spiked particularly among young males. Homicide rates – which are influenced by similar cultural and sociological factors – did not show a spike during the same time.

As this Vox article notes, this increase is likely tied to the concept of suicide contagion – the idea that one suicide will encourage more. At least one suicide expert advised Netflix not to release the show:

His fears sprang from the problem of suicide contagion, which is what it’s called when media attention focused on one prominent suicide leads other people who are struggling with suicidal ideation to try to kill themselves. It’s a danger that young people are especially vulnerable to.

To be fair, there are certain concerns with the conclusion of this study. This includes the it’s design (which makes it impossible to rule out other sources) and the fact that boys drove the rise in suicide (girls would have been more expected, given the fact that the lead character is a girl).

This tragic result reiterates an important point: The media and entertainment industries have a moral obligation to be careful with how they discuss and depict suicide.  ReportingOnSuicde.org gives some helpful advice. These include:

  • Avoid glamorizing the death, sensational headlines and showing pictures of grieving and weeping families.
  • Describing the suicide as sudden or “without warning.”
  • Treating suicide as any other crime.
  • Showing or describing the method of death in graphic detail.
  • Using appropriate language, including “died by suicide,” “completed” or “killed himself” INSTEAD of “successful/unsuccessful.”

I never watched 13 Reasons Why, but from what I have read, the show’s depiction of Hannah’s suicide violates all of these rules.

Between the research already done and the study which came out last week, it’s clear that 13 Reasons Why is contributing to an ongoing massive spike in suicide rates – and one that is particularly acute among young adults.

The show should be pulled off the air.