Earlier this week, Netflix made more headlines with its controversial TV series 13 Reasons Why, which is centered around a teenage girl who takes her own life. The series caused a massive stir when the first season was released, and included a graphic scene showing the character's suicide. However, Netflix attempted to change things this week (long after the launch of Season 1) by editing the episode in which Hannah's death occurs, removing the graphic scene entirely.
This decision was met with a mixed response, mainly because people wondered why the streaming service couldn't have done so sooner. The idea of taking the scene out of the show was largely praised, especially by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
On Wednesday morning, the ASFP released a statement regarding Netflix's decision. We're going to include the statement in its entirety below because, well, it's important.
"AFSP strongly supports Netflix's decision to remove the scene of Hannah's death in Season One. The portrayal of suicidal struggles and suicide is complex and research shows people respond to entertainment content in a variety of different ways. The same content that can lead to increased awareness and interest, and even empathy in many – can lead to worsening of mood, anxiety, or self-image for others who are vulnerable or struggling.
Research also clearly shows that for individuals who have certain vulnerabilities – either related to their present mental health, or even past experiences, especially trauma – some of those individuals have a special susceptibility to identification with others they see struggling in similar ways. If the vulnerable individual sees a fictional character struggling and then dying by suicide, the vulnerable viewer can become more at risk of imitating this suicidal behavior.
The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, in collaboration with AFSP, recently released a study on the portrayal of mental health and suicide in film and television. We found the portrayal of mental health overall is sparse (1.7% of speaking roles appearing in film and 7.1% on television versus 20% of the American public who we know have a mental health condition) and extremely distorted, showing a grave and nearly complete misunderstanding of the issue. This gross misrepresentation includes frequent derogatory name calling, inaccurate linkage to violent behavior, and an overall lack of understanding about the experiences of people with mental health conditions. We know most people with mental health conditions live full lives, but this is not shown in most television programs or in movies.
By contrast, there are many characters in "13 Reasons Why" with complex mental health struggles, who are portrayed through their experiences and relationships in ways that do show how people with mental health struggles and/or traumatic experiences are impacted – that they are real human beings with full lives like all people. The show has encouraged young people to start conversations about previously stigmatized mental health issues and to get help.
Over the last year, AFSP's work with Netflix has clearly shown us that the content creators and the company care about mental health and suicide as a public health concern. Since AFSP started working with creators on Season 2, Netflix has taken significant steps to create educational resources for viewers, adding a Resources Toolkit as well as trigger warnings for the series. Subsequent storylines have portrayed messages of hope and healing, showing characters seeking support from parents, mentors, support groups and mental health professionals, and working through trauma and mental health issues.0comments
We believe that editing the scene in Season 1, Episode 13 can lead to a fuller dialogue of the important issues covered by the show. We applaud Netflix for making this decision and moving in a very important direction."
For more information about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or to find resources if you or a loved one is struggling with their mental health, head to the AFSP website here.