BY SHELBY JORDAN Google “suicide.” The first link is to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, with a phone number and online chat option.  Just below is a gallery of the top stories on notable suicides, most recently dominated by Aaron Hernandez, former NFL star, and the fictional Hannah Baker, star of Netflix’s new original series, “13 Reasons Why.”

This past March, Netflix unveiled the much-anticipated original series, “13 Reasons Why,” Based on Jay Asher’s best-selling young adult novel, the show tells the story of Hannah Baker—a high school sophomore who commits suicide.  Before taking her life she recorded 13 tapes, each addressed to a different person, who she blames for not hearing her unspoken cries for help. The final episode includes a very graphic depiction of her suicide.

 

Originally intended to facilitate conversation and begin to break down the stigmas of mental illness in society, experts are now worried that the show could have negative results.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 10-24, according to the 2015 CDC report. There are on average 5,240 suicide attempts in grades 7-12 each day in the United States.  The suicide rates of all ages have been gradually increasing since the early 1990s.  A 2013 Oxford University study found have that this increase can partly be attributed to the greater spotlight put on suicide through heighted media accessibility.

 

 

Dr. Pam McGurk, a psychiatrist at Palos Hospital in Chicago, is worried about the media portrayal of suicide, like the Netflix series, and the accessibility of information over the internet, as well. “It can be supportive for patients, friends, and family,” she says. “But the internet and other types of media can also encourage self-diagnosis and can be used to share effective ways to commit suicide.” Whether it be a TV show, a movie, news coverage of a celebrity, or just informational websites and blogs, these platforms influence users.

 

For many considering suicide, the internet is the first place they seek help, on the grounds that they can hide behind their anonymity, found the Oxford University study.  Some participants reported going online to normalize their feelings and to find a sense of empathy, rather than trying to find help. In some cases, the study found that “young people who went online to find out more about self-harm and suicide were exposed to violent imagery and acted out what they had seen online.”

 

Experts have published guidelines for how suicide should be covered in the media and presented to the public.  ReportingOnSuicide.org gives a list of clear “do’s” and “don’ts.”  In general, the suicide should not be given excessive attention, sensationalized, or in any way validated, it should rather be presented in a neutral tone and treated as a gateway to encourage those suffering to seek help.  And most importantly, it should provide resources.

 

Understanding these guidelines, it is easy to see why experts fear “13 Reasons Why.”  The primary rule is: do not show the actual suicide.  In the graphic final episode of the series, Hannah Baker sits in a bath tub and takes a razor blade to her wrists, bleeding to death.

 

The fear in this case is copycat suicide, a term used to describe the phenomena of one type of suicide being recreated by multiple others.  This suicide scene is a “tutorial on how to complete the act of ending your life,” says Brooke Fox, psychotherapist at a private practice in Illinois.

 

And the popular series glamorizes suicide. “Hannah received everything in death that she was hoping for: sympathy, deep regret, guilt, and ultimately love,” says Fox.

 

Netflix’s goal was meant to portray an honest and real depiction of mental illness and suicide, in order to start conversations that are generally avoided.

 

When questioned by Vanity Fair, Nic Sheff, a writer for the show, said, “The most irresponsible thing we could have done would have been not to show the death at all.” He argues that the scene was necessary to make it clear the suicide does not an act of relief, but an act of horror.

 

Selena Gomez, the show’s executive producer, told E! News, “I just wanted it to come across in a way that kids would be frightened, but confused — in a way that they would talk about it because it’s something that’s happening all the time.”

 

The show did succeed in starting conversation and some experts are recommending that young adults watch the show, but with a parent. Parents should take the opportunity not only for discussion, but to gauge a teen’s attitudes about suicide. “Look for signs for facial expressions and body language,” Dr. McGurk advises parents, “and if you notice anything that might be concerning, start looking for the bigger signs.”

 

Dr. McGurk describes these as changes in normal behaviors or lack of interest in activities once enjoyed, any sort of isolation, and signs that point towards self-harm.  If even one of these behaviors is noticeable, Dr. McGurk suggests a direct approach to the problem.

 

Early intervention and professional help, both therapeutic and medicinal, are necessary with patients considering suicide.  Friends and family should educate themselves on mental illness and surround the patient with only support and positivity. “No one wants to ask someone they are close to if they are suicidal,” says Dr. McGurk, “But the quicker we find out the problem, the quicker we can address it and the better chance we have of saving a life.”