Suicide prevention expert Dan Reidenberg says the popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which dramatizes a high school student’s suicide, does “more harm than any good.”
“There is a great concern that I have, that young people are going to over-identify with Hannah in the series, and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series,” Reidenberg, executive director for the non-profit Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), told ABC News.
“I’ve heard from others that are really concerned because it’s so sensational and so graphic that they’re worried about the copy-cat effect of suicide,” Reidenberg explained.
The teen drama — based on a Jay Asher novel of the same name and co-produced by singer Selena Gomez — uncovers the mystery behind 17-year-old Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) suicide. Baker left behind audio recordings for 13 people she says played a role in her decision to take her own life.
The series has been a critical hit since its March 31 debut on the streaming service, boasting a 9 out of 10 rating from over 44,000 voters on IMDB. But Reidenberg fears the show fails to acknowledge mental illness or offer “viable alternatives” to suicide.
“My thoughts about the series are that it’s probably done more harm than any good,” he told ABC.
However, child psychologist Janet Taylor praised Gomez for using the series to address mental health issues.
“I think we don’t talk enough when things aren’t going well,” Taylor said on ABC’s Good Morning America. “I had one patient say, ‘I have to be perfect because I’m so flawed.’ Where did she get that?”
“We have to break the silence, talk to our parents, talk to counselors,” Taylor added. “If you have a family history of mental illness, be aware of it, talk to your children. If your child makes a threat about wanting to hurt themselves, take it seriously.”
The show’s cast, producers and mental health experts explained their reasons for pursuing the project in a post-production video tiled Beyond the Reasons.
“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.
Still, Reidenberg worries that the intense scenes depicting young Baker’s death may encourage some viewers to emulate her actions.
“There should be no reason, no justification whatsoever, why any kind of production — entertainment or news — would be so descriptive and so graphic,” he said.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 15 to 34, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Follow Jerome Hudson on Twitter: @JeromeEHudson