Content warning: descriptions of suicide, ideation
After receiving an enormous amount of backlash, Netflix has finally decided to cut the controversial suicide scene from season one’s finale of “13 Reasons Why.” And personally, I’m glad that they did.
While it’s a little late to be doing so now, I’m still happy Netflix is taking steps to safeguard its audience from such a triggering scene, which romanticized suicide and had the potential to influence its struggling viewers.
I feel this on both a personal level and as an outsider — because the show influenced my own ideas of suicide.
I chose to watch “13 Reasons Why” not knowing anything about the suicide scene (which is why, by the way, there most definitely should have been content warnings in the first season).
I was struggling with my own mental health, and as both a journalist and survivor, I wanted to see how mental illness was represented in a modern day series. As a young person who’s struggled with mental illness since my teenage years, I wanted to see if I could relate to the teens in the series.
I really hoped to gain some comfort out of it, and to know that I wasn’t alone — something that I often felt as a teen.
But the only thing I learned from watching the series was a new suicide method.
And while there were many triggering undertones to the show, I don’t think anything was quite as dangerous as the bath scene.
For some, this scene was triggering simply because it showed self-harm. This affected a lot of people who have self-harmed in the past because it was too close to home for them. It was a reminder of past struggles and the pain that led them to self-harm in the first place. It took them back to a dark place that they weren’t ready to revisit.
But I struggled with it for a different reason: the fact that they made suicide seem so easy.
Due to my own mental illness last year, I began experiencing bouts of severe suicidality. It wasn’t an idea I took lightly. I had thought about timing, methods, letters, finances, and what would happen when I was gone.
And when I began imagining how I would do it, I already knew how I would attempt it: Exactly the same way as Hannah.
I remember thinking back to that scene in “13 Reasons Why,” and seeing how easy and peaceful Hannah’s death seemed to be. It seemed like it was over in a matter of seconds.
Yes, she was incredibly upset and distressed, but the scene almost made it look like an “easy way out.” So easy, in fact, that I told myself that’s exactly how I would do it.
Luckily, I ended up seeking help from a crisis team. After six weeks of daily visits, support, and medication changes, the suicidal feelings lessened and I started to see light at the end of the tunnel.
And you know what else I saw? How dangerous and unrealistic that suicide scene actually was.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Hannah was shown lying in the bath fully clothed, having cut herself with a razor blade. The next scene shows her parents finding her, devastated, as Hannah had passed away.
The suicide scene was quick and clean. They made it seem like it was simple — as though it might be an appealing way to die.
For someone in a vulnerable headspace — someone like me — that scene stuck with me, made worse by the fact that I wasn’t expecting to see it in the first place.
But in reality, slitting your wrists is an incredibly dangerous and painful thing to do, and it comes with a lot of risks — many of which don’t include death.
It’s not quick. It’s not easy. It’s certainly not painless. And in nearly all cases, it goes wrong and can open you up to severe infections and even disability.
It terrifies me that had I not sought help from professionals and learned this, I may have seriously damaged my body for the rest of my life.
But the scene wasn’t only damaging for myself. I worry it could heavily influence others who, like me at the time, didn’t understand the severity of it.
When I tried to track down the scene online, I found it without context — just music behind it — and it almost looked like a how-to-guide for ending your life. It was horrifying.
It scares me to imagine a young, impressionable viewer seeing this unfold on screen and thinking, “This is the way to do it.”
I know they’re out there, because I was one of those viewers.
I understand Netflix wanted the shock factor, as many television programs do. And I can appreciate the ambition to open up a conversation about suicide in a modern day series. However, the way they did so was dangerous and unrealistic.
Of course, they aren’t going to want to show a realistic way — because that wouldn’t be suitable for the viewing age.
But that’s actually part of the problem. It’s dangerous to portray suicide in a way that makes it seem relatively simple and painless, when it’s anything but.
There are certainly things to like about the show (I’ll admit, there were parts that I definitely loved). But those don’t outweigh the risk of leading impressionable viewers to take deadly actions because they think what was portrayed on the show will happen in real life.
The scene never should have been released. But the fact remains that it was — and endangered viewers like me.
I’m glad that the scene has been cut. I’m afraid, though, that it’s already too late.
Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and to encourage others to speak out.