13 Reasons Why writer defends Netflix drama's suicide scene following mental health group criticism

Nic Sheff wrote an open letter explaining the series' decision to show the moment in graphic detail

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The Independent Culture

The writer of Netflix teen drama 13 Reasons Why has written an open letter in response to criticism from mental health groups  regarding the series' depiction of suicide.

Produced by actor-singer Selena Gomez, the series centres on a 17-year-old high school student Hannah Baker who dies by suicide, leaving behind 13 cassette tapes for 13 different people she felt was instrumental in her decision to take her own life.

In a personal guest column on Vanity Fair, Nic Sheff defended the show's decision to depict Hannah's suicide in graphic detail explaining how his own suicide attempt informed his work.

He wrote: “… [W]hen it came time to discuss the portrayal of the protagonist’s suicide in 13 Reasons Why, I of course immediately flashed on my own experience. It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like - to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse.

“It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all,” he continued. “In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all - it’s a screaming, agonising, horror.


Following the show's debut in March, mental health organisations have criticised the series with some believing the teen drama could do “more harm than good.”   

Executive director of non-profit advocacy group Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, Dan Reidenberg, stated: “There is a great concern that I have... that young people are going to overidentify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series.”

It's important to note that the episode which depicts Hannah's suicide warns viewers the content “may not be suitable for younger audiences, including graphic depictions of violence and suicide.”

Creator Brian Yorkey told The Hollywood Reporter that he hopes 13 Reasons Why “sparks a conversation” about suicide.

“We wanted to confront the fact that suicide is messy, ugly and it's incredibly painful,” he said. “There's nothing peaceful or beautiful about it at all. It's horrific to endure and it's horrific for the people that a person who commits suicide leaves behind. We wanted to tell that story truthfully. And as difficult as it is to watch, it should be difficult to watch. If we make it easy to watch, then we're selling goods that we didn't want to sell.”


You can read Sheff's full guest column here

13 Reasons Why is an adaptation of a 2007 novel by Jay Asher. The series stars Katherine Langford as Baker, Dylan Minnette, Mark Pellegrino and Kate Walsh.

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