Although Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” was celebrated for raising awareness regarding teen suicide, the show has also been criticized for its vivid portrayal of the same subject. More than two years after the show premiered, Netflix has removed the nearly three-minute-long graphic scene from the first season of “13 Reasons Why” in which a teenage girl commits suicide.
The TV drama, produced by Brian Yorkey and based on Jay Asher’s novel by the same name, centers around Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford, who outlines her decision to commit suicide in a series of cassette tapes revealing why she decided to take her life. The series also shines a spotlight on bullying and sexual assault.
Despite the show’s overwhelming success, mental health experts raised concerns about the show, fearing that the episode’s portrayal of suicide was potentially dangerous and risked inspiring copycat behavior among impressionable teens.
Some mental health advocacy groups, such as Australia’s Headspace, criticized the series for what they believe “[exposed] viewers to risky suicide content.”
“National and international research indicates the very real impact and risk to harmful suicide exposure leading to increased risk and possible suicide contagion,” Australian Headspace national manager Kristen Douglas said. “People have said the show has triggered their vulnerabilities and made them consider whether suicide is a possible option for them.”
The issue resurfaced in April 2017 when the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that suicide rates spiked among boys aged 10 to 17 a month after the show’s release, reaching the highest overall suicide rate for boys in that age group in the past five years.
“I don’t think it would’ve been better to keep [the scene] included,” senior Alexis Macato said. “I think the show’s better without the scene so that suicide isn’t romanticized and that those who are going through a rough time aren’t inspired to do [the same.]”
As the show’s creator and producers prepared to launch season three in August 2019, they decided to heed the advice of medical experts and edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life.
The original suicide scene showed Hannah graphically slitting her wrists in her bathtub with closeup zooms and eerily realistic audio effects of her sobs and struggle. The show now depicts Hannah staring at herself in the bathroom mirror, and seconds later, her parents enter the bathroom and discover her body.
“We believe this edit will help the show do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers,” Yorkey said in a Twitter statement in July.
The editing of the suicide scene has garnered support from many of the suicide and mental-health organizations that advocated against the graphic scene when the show first premiered, including the American Association of Suicidology, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American School Counselor Association.
Sophomore Merit Onyekwere supports the show’s decision to censor the scene.
“I actually skipped over it,” Onyekwere said. “I don’t like seeing gore and I felt [the scene] just wasn’t necessary… to get the point across.”