13 Reasons Why has been a runaway hit for Netflix, especially with teenage viewers. The show focuses on the suicide of high school student Hannah Baker and the people who she feels played a role in her decision.
The success of the show has sparked a great deal of media commentary. While fans of the show praise it for dramatizing the social reality of high school and provoking dialogue about teenage suicide, critics of the show see the show as simplifying complex mental health issues and romanticizing suicide.
The show is based on a young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher and was published to much critical acclaim in 2007. Asher indicated that he saw his novel as a cautionary tale which urges readers to think carefully about how they treat others. While being faithful to the premise of the story, the Netflix show updates it by injecting elements of social media, bullying and rape culture. These elements, along with Hannah’s suicide, are depicted in stark terms. Adults in the show are depicted as ineffective and uninformed, which is a serious concern for health professionals, as one of the key things recommended to young adults in crisis is for them to reach out for help from someone they trust.
I emphasized to students that while a large number of young Canadians acknowledge thinking about suicide, far fewer act on it. One of the limitations of 13 Reasons Why is that it suggests suicide is Hannah’s only option, which is a dangerous position to present to vulnerable young people.