Mental health groups issue warning about popular Netflix drama '13 Reasons Why'

Yahoo7 and Yahoo US

Australia’s mental health support groups have issued a warning following the popularity of a new Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why.

The TV show, which follows the story of Hannah Baker, is told in the aftermath of her suicide.

Hannah, played by Australian actress Katherine Langford, uses tapes to detail “thirteen reasons” behind her choice to commit suicide.

The series follows her teenage love interest, Clay, who is given the tapes to listen to after her death.

The series focuses on the issues of high school bullying and mental health.

The series follows Hannah Baker's story after her suicide. Photos: Netflix
The series follows Hannah Baker's story after her suicide. Photos: Netflix

Since the show was made available on Netflix last month it has sparked strong debate about the final episodes, which depict graphic scenes of rape and self harm.

Youth mental health foundation Headspace said it has received a growing number of calls and emails from parents and youths worried about the scenes.

In the show's final episode, viewers are confronted with Hannah’s suicide. The scene is highly graphic.

Australian actress Katherine Langford plays the series lead Hannah Baker. Photo: Netflix
Australian actress Katherine Langford plays the series lead Hannah Baker. Photo: Netflix

Research suggests depictions of methods of suicide can be a potential risk to vulnerable people and those impacted by suicide.

The head of Headspace's online counselling service, Dr Steven Leicester, told Fairfax that clinicians have been dealing with a constant stream of “concerned individuals” since the series started in Australia.

"There is a responsibility for broadcasters to know what they are showing and the impact that certain content can have on an audience – and a young audience in particular," he said in a statement.

A manager for Headspace's school support service also felt exposing young people to distressing content such as seen in the final episode could lead to "suicide contagion".

The issue has been talked about abroad also with US suicide prevention advocacy groups saying the show could do "more harm than any good".

Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

"There is a great concern that I have ... that young people are going to overidentify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series," Suicide Awareness Voices of Education executive director Dan Reidenberg said.

"I've heard from others that are really concerned because its so sensational and so graphic that they're worried about the copycat effect of suicide," he added.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those ages 15 to 34, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The way things are portrayed in the media does have an effect on the way suicides can happen. This is particularly true for young people that are very vulnerable and at risk of suicide," Reidenberg said.

"When they're exposed to images that are really graphic, really sensational, and there is nothing balancing out for them ... that they can get help and that treatment works and recovery is possible ... we see them actually replaying what they've seen."

"The show actually doesn't present a viable alternative to suicide. The show doesn't talk about mental illness or depression, doesn't name those words," he added.

"My thoughts about the series are that its probably done more harm than any good."

Clay Jensen is given the tapes to listen to after Hannah's suicide. Photo: Netflix
Clay Jensen is given the tapes to listen to after Hannah's suicide. Photo: Netflix

Producers for the show said they hope the series can help those who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide.

"We wanted to do it in a way where it was honest, and we wanted to make something that can, hopefully, help people, because suicide should never, ever be an option," Gomez said in "Beyond the Reasons," a video released by Netflix to accompany the series.

Co-producer Brian Yorkey added that the show's creators "worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch, because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide".

Jay Asher, the author of the book "13 Reasons Why," said, "Suicide is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it happens, and so we have to talk about it".

"It's dangerous not to talk about it, because there is always room for help," he added.

If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or a loved one, seek support and information by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.