Since its arrival on Netflix, there’s been a lot of debate about the depiction of suicide in 13 Reasons Why, and now one of the show’s writers is explaining why it was important to demythicize the act.
Writing a letter for Vanity Fair, Nic Sheff opened up about his own experiences with suicide and defended the show against detractors. The move comes after various viewers and mental health organizations questioned the decision to show the explicit scene in the final episode.
In his letter, Sheff stated that he took on the job of writing for 13 Reasons Why because he “recognized the potential for the show to bravely and unflinchingly explore the realities of suicide for teens and young adults,” something he felt strongly about.
“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,” Sheff wrote. He continues to explain that the idea he had in his mind of what suicide was actually like was very different from the actuality he went through.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
“It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all,” he said.
While the final episode of 13 Reasons Why does come with a disclaimer, some mental health advocates have raised concern.
“There is a great concern that I have… that young people are going to overidentify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series,” said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of non-profit advocacy group Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
Indeed, The Hollywood Reporter noted that, in Australia, calls to suicide hotlines had increased since the show had aired, with Jaelea Skehan, director of Mindframe, stating that she felt Netflix had been irresponsible by not considering the triggering effect such a scene might have.
For Sheff, however, the decision to include the scene was vital. “I know it was right, because my own life was saved when the truth of suicide was finally held up for me to see in all its horror—and reality,” he said. Read his full essay here.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Find more information about suicide here.