The article discusses suicide in graphic terms. If it triggers anything for you, please call BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 for 24/7 counselling, or Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you are in crisis.

By now you’re either aware of the Selena Gomez-produced ’13 Reason Why’ because it’s appeared in your ‘Because you watched…’ queue on Netflix or you’ve read up on the endless amount of controversy its depiction of suicide has stirred up.

The teen drama – based on Jay Asher’s YA novel about the death by suicide of high schooler Hannah Baker, who leaves behind 13 cassette tapes for various classmates, each one explaining how they were partially responsible for her death – doesn’t shy away from exploring not only the taking of one’s life, but bullying, rape and slut shaming. 

It’s led some viewers and mental health organisations, including Australia’s own Headspace – to question whether ’13 Reasons’ went too far in its exploration of hard-hitting issues, with some accusing its creators of glamourising suicide and warning those with fragile states of mind against watching it.

’13 Reasons Why’ Writer Says His Own Suicide Attempt Shaped Hannah’s

But one of its writers Nic Sheff – himself a former crystal-meth user who tried to take his own life – has come out swinging in its defence, writing a passionate op-ed for Vanity Fair explaining why he felt it absolutely necessary to provide a realistic depiction of Hannah’s death by suicide.

“I’ve been reading quite a few posts by suicide-prevention advocates and other individuals expressing concern, or even outrage, at the show’s decision to depict its protagonist’s suicide on-screen,” he wrote. “In other words, they thought it would be better to leave her character’s death to the imagination.

This response was actually quite surprising to me.

“From the very beginning, I agreed that we should depict the suicide with as much detail and accuracy as possible. I even argued for it – relating the story of my own suicide attempt to the other writers.

“So when 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.”

Sheff went on to say that – contrary to some people’s beliefs – he felt it would have done more harm than good to gloss over the events leading up to Hannah’s death, which involves a particularly upsetting scene where she cuts her wrists in the bath.

“It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. 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, agonizing, horror.”

There’s never an easy way to talk about suicide – but to ignore it, as we all know, is far worse than feelings of discomfort.

Read Sheff’s op-ed in full HERE.

Source: Vanity Fair.

Photo: Netflix.