Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’ portrays dangerous glorification of suicide

Warning: This column discusses the premise of the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” and contains mild spoilers. I suggest you continue reading despite spoilers to save the time, self-loathing and hopelessness that come from watching this series.

I absolutely loathe “13 Reasons Why.”

Based on Jay Asher’s young adult novel of the same name, the series revolves around Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who commits suicide. Instead of leaving a note for her parents, she leaves a box of 13 tapes containing the “reasons” why she killed herself. Each tape is dedicated to an individual in her life who she believes personally contributed to her death. Those people are then instructed to listen to all the tapes and hear how they “killed Hannah Baker.”

It sounds like a fascinating premise. For whatever gruesome reason, premature death sparks curiosity and intrigue in many people, even when that death is caused by such an indescribably horrific event as suicide. This is a disgusting part of the human psyche that is always seeking to assign reason to death.

Instead of using art to elevate our culture from these base instincts, this show chose to feed right into that disgusting curiosity. The author uses rape, car accidents and suicide as plot devices. The treatment of this subject matter is frightfully immature, favoring black and white “justice” over any mention of mental illness or depression. Trauma is, of course, a risk factor for depression, but it does not directly cause suicide.

It concerns me that, as a culture, not only do we see this as an acceptable way to portray such events, but we also collectively decided it was the next trendy thing to watch together. Sweet, binge-worthy television, like candy and donuts.

Unlike many other shows that have dealt with suicide and depression in a more realistic and healthy way – I’d recommend FX’s “You’re the Worst,” or the Australian show “Please Like Me” – this show fails to use its platform to prevent suicide. It does not include a warning with information about suicide hotlines at the beginning or end of episodes like other shows do. Instead, it graphically depicts the planning and mechanisms of the suicide, with no afterthought.

The most despicable aspect of the show is that there are kids and adults out there who are contemplating or have attempted suicide and are watching this series. Instead of using the platform to build useful conceptual barriers against suicide, the series instead portrays a young heroine going out in a flame of glory and getting the vindication she wanted. Aside from the fact that “vindication” is not typically something on the minds of depressed and suicidal people, it simply glorified her death.

Everyone I’ve heard from who has watched it said it put them in a darker place at the end – most of them healthy adults. Copy-cat suicides are a real phenomenon. This show is not appropriate for children to watch, nor is it safe for people with suicidal thoughts. It is simply abhorrent for healthy adults to enjoy such a problematic depiction of mental illness.

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help at 1-800-273-TALK.

Annie Cappetta is a junior majoring in ecosystem science and policy and political science.