Youth mental health organisation headspace concerned about Netflix series 13 Reasons Why's depiction of suicide

UPDATE 5pm: The Hunter Institute of Mental Health and its media initiative Mindframe share the concerns of youth mental health service headspace regarding Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

Hunter Institute director Jaelea Skehan said the series did not comply with recommendations on the portrayal of suicide, with a “very lengthy, very graphic and very hard to watch” scene of suicide.

She said such portrayals were associated with an increased risk of harm and distress for those who were vulnerable.

The failure to air content warnings until the final two episodes and the lack of help-seeking information were also of concern.

Ms Skehan said the portrayal of suicide as the clear result of certain events diminished the experiences of many young people who found themselves in distress for no obvious reason.

She said the narrative surrounding how the actions of others contributed to the character’s suicide could add to the guilt many people affected by suicide felt.

“This questioning about “what if” is something that haunts people affected by suicide, and this program is likely to add to that rather than alleviate it,” she said.

Ms Skehan said the show did not encourage help-seeking and its depiction of a character’s interactions with a counsellor did not reflect the reality of how support services worked with young people.

But a local mother, who did not wish to be named, said she watched it with her 19-year-old daughter who had attempted suicide and applauded the series for its representation of issues affecting young people.

She believed it would encourage kids to open up about their problems.

Ms Skehan recommended parents either prevent children from watching the series, or discuss the issues it raised with them.

EARLIER: Youth mental health organisation headspace has expressed serious concerns about the depiction of suicide in a popular online television series.

In a letter issued to media, headspace school support national manager Kristen Douglas said the organisation’s school support program and its online and phone counselling service eheadspace had received an increasing number of calls and emails directly related to Netflix series 13 Reasons Why since its March release.

Ms Douglas said the depiction of the suicide of a young woman presented viewers with “very confronting and graphic imagery”, including methods and means.

“The show exposes viewers to risky suicide content and may lead to a distressing reaction by the viewer particularly if the audience is children and young people,” she said.

Ms Douglas said research had shown that such exposure led to increased risk of suicide and suicide contagion.

Suicide contagion refers to a process where a suicide or suicidal act within a community or geographical area will increase the likelihood that others will attempt or die by suicide.

“There is a responsibility for broadcasters to know what they are showing and the impact that certain content can have on an audience – and on a young audience in particular,” she said.

Ms Douglas said the organisation urged school communities, parents and mental health services to be aware of the risks for young people exposed to the content.

Comment has been sought from Netflix.

If you are aged 12 to 25 and having a tough time, contact eheadspace on 1800 650 890 or visit your local headspace centre.

The organisation also has resources for parents, schools and mental health services to help them assist young people in distress, including how to talk to young people about suicide, managing social media following suicide and how young people might respond to a suicide.

If you are in need of immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.