Newcomer actress Katherine Langford plays the main character, Hannah Baker, in the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. Hannah, before she commits suicide, leaves behind 13 audio cassette tapes meant for her classmates (the ones who have wronged her in some way) to listen to. The act of Hannah’s suicide itself is shown on the show, in a vividly graphic scene, towards the close of the season.
After the series was released, there has been a 26 percent increase in Google searches for “how to commit suicide,” which is a haunting statistic that’s hard to ignore. The World Health Organization has online guidelines for how to prevent suicide, one of those guidelines being to “discourage content that centers around suicide.” Therefore, many psychiatrists have expressed concern and disagreement surrounding the series. They feel it draws attention to suicide in a way that idealizes it, makes it Hollywood-esque, fit for television and fame. In reality, suicide is the result of a very deep and serious distressed mental state, one in which a victim finds there is no escape from.
The Google searches between March 31 (the release date of the series) and April 18th showed an increase in searches for the phrases “how to kill yourself” (up 9 percent), “commit suicide” (18 percent), and “how to commit suicide” (26 percent). The cut-off date of April 18th was chosen due to Aaron Hernandez’s death on April 19th, in order to avoid any increased searches from the NFL player’s suicide. The word “squad” was also excluded from the search, so there wouldn’t be any confusion with the film, Suicide Squad.
Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-old teenagers and young adults. Many people wish to see a show with a happy ending, a success story of someone that struggled with depression and turned their attitude around before doing something they would regret. 13 Reasons Why has no happy ending, and people worry about what lesson that may teach kids and young adults. Will it teach them that this is the best option if they’re being bullied incessantly? What message is it really sending? It leaves too much of the decision making up to the viewer; the viewer has to decide if Hannah was dramatic and silly, or if she was justified and did what she had to do. The viewer has to be the one to take away the right perspective from the show. Maybe giving the viewer this power, in a situation like this, isn’t the best choice.