HALIFAX – A local adolescent mental health expert says the Netflix hit ’13 Reasons Why’ could be sending a dangerous message to its target audience.
The show is the story of a high school student who killed herself, but leaves behind tapes revealing where she lays the blame for reaching that point.
Dalhousie University professor and local mental health expert Dr. Stan Kutcher says the show and it’s source material, a 2007 book of the same name, could be dangerous to young people who choose to watch or read it.
“It glamorizes and romanticises suicide,” said Kutcher. “It does not – and I want to repeat this very clearly – does not accurately reflect how young people come to choose suicide.”
Kutcher says the show goes astray in suggesting suicide is caused by the “slings and arrows of outrageous teenage life”, offering the suicide was caused by those the character ran into, and that she may not have killed herself had those in her life simply been kinder.
The show is rated for a mature audience, intended only for those 17 or older. But some question that intention, as it is a show featuring high school students and thereby may attract a younger audience.
Kutcher says young people between the ages of 13- and 15-years-old and young women are particularly susceptible to what they see in the media.
“That group is the most vulnerable for social media messages, messages that are on regular media, and messages that create a phenomenon which we call ‘suicide contagion’,” said Kutcher, who describes ‘suicide contagion’ as messages inflaming or increasing suicide attempts, and can increase suicide attempts.
Kutcher says decades have been spent by mental health organizations working to ensure media portrayals of suicide are done within guidelines that are more likely to be helpful than harmful, but adds that’s not the case with ’13 Reasons Why’.
The professor says he and a team of colleagues were asked to review the book to determine if it was a valid educational resource, but strongly recommended against such use because “it was misleading and had the potential to actually have adverse outcomes.”
The show’s creators and Netflix have come to the defence of the series, saying care was taken out of respect for the sensitive subject and adding there are resources available on a related website.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental illness crisis, call 811 for 24/7 assistance or to be put in touch with the Mental Health Crisis Line.