This summer, I decided to binge watch one of the most talked about shows on Netflix, “13 Reasons Why.” The first season of the platform’s original series follows protagonist Hannah Baker’s final thoughts through a collection of tapes that she records before committing suicide, while the second season chronicles the aftermath of suicide and how it affects the school, her friends and her family.
Both seasons of the show have received intense criticism for graphic portrayals of suicide and sexual assault. Many critics restarted calls to cancel the show when the second season aired last month. The second season has been condemned for portraying inaccurate realities of suicide and being overly graphic, and those concerns have continued to grow now that the show has been renewed for a third season. Despite the criticism, it is important to have more mainstream shows like “13 Reasons Why” start a conversation about challenging topics, including suicide and sexual assault, and the show has taken steps to provide better resources to viewers.
Netflix’s immense popularity allows them to push their message to reach millions of people. In fact, the season two premiere of “13 Reasons Why” had more than six million views in the first three days of its release. A platform of this size can spread awareness like no other traditional classroom on suicide prevention, meaning it could also be more beneficial.
Television shows can prompt support from friends and family because people often watch programs with groups. Research has found that teens who struggle with self harm are more likely to report their behavior to friends and family rather than school officials, which means a show that sparks conversation after the credits roll could be life-saving if it prompts a viewer to open up and seek help.
Netflix is able to reach a large audience in a supportive setting, which is the perfect combination for a show like this to succeed. The greater access to information and support resources the network added make the second season even more positive.
In response to widespread criticism, Netflix used findings from a study on how parents and teenagers responded to the show from Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development to make several changes between seasons one and two.
The second season now starts with a content warning from the cast suggesting that the series “may not be right” for some viewers, like those struggling with issues depicted in the show. Content warnings also appear before some of the season’s most graphic episodes detailing the themes covered. Producers expanded resources available on the show’s website and introduced an additional series titled “Beyond the Reasons” in which cast members, producers, writers and mental health professionals discuss themes from the show.
This is a perfect illustration of the show’s intention to start constructive dialogue about topics like suicide and depression. With additional resources, producers meet their goal of starting a productive conversation about tough topics, even though some have said the second season is more graphic than the first.
While many people are concerned with the graphic nature of “13 Reasons Why,” the hard-to-watch content mitigates misconceptions about suicide. Critics have said portrayals of suicide can inspire vulnerable people to use these acts as examples, but producers have said the graphic content is necessary to show that a death by suicide is never peaceful nor painless – and I agree. The show communicates this well by depicting the pain and immense suffering associated with suicide and the way it affects friends, family and the community.
“13 Reasons Why” depicts themes that many young people struggle with but are often only whispered about, which is why shows like this are so important. The fact that Netflix has added information and support resources to viewers shows its commitment to using the show as a medium to spark positive change.
The show’s third season, which will be released next year, will continue to address important topics and be positive, as long as content warnings are continued and producers add segments and additional resources to support their viewers through the conversation they started.
Colette Bruder, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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