By Jaelea Skehan
This week once again you can hardly open a social media channel without seeing commentary about 13 Reasons Why – a Netflix drama series that explores issues affecting young people, including suicide. This time it is centred around the news that Netflix taken steps to edit explicit scenes from season one of 13 Reasons Why, consequently setting a worldwide precedent for entertainment media.
With this activity, Netflix has contributed to the production of a much safer series for vulnerable audiences including reducing the potential risk of subsequent suicides. Recent research conducted in the United States confirmed what many had feared – with an increase in suicides recorded for 10-19 year-olds in the three months following the series release.
As with any fictional portrayal of suicide, opinions will vary, and on this show people have been divided which is why I and Everymind welcome this news, despite the delay. Before I discuss what I consider to be some of the positives of this news I’d like to outline some of the important work that went on behind the scenes on behalf of Mindframe, a national initiative of Everymind.
Mindframe has been working with Netflix since the development of season two and are continuing to provide support throughout the release of season three. To further progress this world-wide precedent, Mindframe would like to see national and international production houses and streaming organisations such a Netflix, adopt the Mindframe guidelines for the fictional portrayal of suicide into their social responsibility models, to ensure safe and accurate portrayals. This approach would see scriptwriters provided with guidance and education opportunities at the beginning of the creative development stage to ensure they are already considering how to approach difficult content before it goes into production.
On a broader scale, Mindframe will be meeting with international experts at the 30th World Congress of the International Association for Suicide Prevention in Northern Ireland in September, to discuss global collaboration. We are on the forefront of progress and bringing together our global leaders will help keep the momentum we need to help reduce risk to vulnerable audiences in line with the evidence.
It is important to note that initially at the time the 13 Reasons Why series was first released, I joined others in the suicide prevention and youth mental health community in sharing six reasons why I thought the program was potentially dangerous. I’m pleased to this time be able to share six reasons around why this is a significant step forward.
1: It shows a willingness to learn, understand and listen to experts
The scene, which occurs in the final episode, was very graphic, drawn out over a number of minutes and very hard to watch. While some have talked about the graphic nature of the scene being important and potentially helpful, we know from sound research that detailed descriptions and portrayals of suicide have been associated with increased distress and increased risk of suicide and not the opposite. Netflix have shown their capacity to understand, engage and incorporate insights from world leading suicide prevention experts to help inform their decision to remove this scene from season one.
2: It sets an international precedent about producing safe content for all audiences, including vulnerable audiences
To have Netflix make this edit, albeit two years after the airing of season one is ground breaking. Yes it might seem as though it is too little too late, but it is never too little too late when it comes to protecting vulnerable audiences. It is never too little, too late for setting a benchmark for the production of safe content. Young people need to understand that they are worthy of getting support whether there is one reason, 13 reasons or no obvious reasons at all.
3: It shows acknowledgement of best practice and evidence informed guidelines
By listening, understanding and making these edits, Netflix show a level of respect and acknowledgement of the evidence informed guidelines that have been developed to support safe discussion and communication around suicide and mental ill-health. These positive changes and make no mistake, these are positive changes, will help to protect viewers, reduce the glorification of suicide and also encourage and empower all productions and entertainment media to follow suit in following the Mindframe guidelines in Australia and other similar guidelines internationally.
4: It is just one step in what is a long way to go to achieve safe representation of suicide in entertainment
There is always room for improvement and changes within this space, so this is why it is important to acknowledge when progress is made. Netflix are to be commended for this step, but I what I would say to others within this industry is that it is important to continue these discussions and ensure it doesn’t end there with the editing of one explicit scene in the first season of a TV show. A lens of perspective should be applied to all the content which is produced to ensure it is safe, responsible and above all else, does no harm.
5: It shows the importance of partnerships in suicide prevention
Suicide is an issue that is important to communities locally and globally. It requires multiple sectors and communities working together. The media have an important role to play in suicide prevention and we do not want to shut down their interest in covering these issues. But partnerships are important to ensure the messages we are sending about suicide are in line with evidence and as well as community need. We need the media to be part of the solution and partnerships are key.
6: Media have a responsibility to not only acknowledge this move by Netflix but also ensure they also do no further harm
13 Reasons Why has been an international phenomenon, and no doubt there will be substantial media coverage of this change. Media covering this news also have a role to play in protecting vulnerable audiences by ensuring they avoid detailing the method and information that has been edited out of the scene. Describing and relaying the content in explicit detail could potentially post a risk and be counterproductive to the steps that Netflix has just taken.
If people in Australia are talking about this online and sharing information about these changes can I ask you to consider the following:
Share information about Australian services where people can get information and support – that includes headspace, Kids Helpline, ReachOut.com and other services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue.
Please understand that views on the program will divide people – and this divide may occur between those affected and those with little exposure to suicide. Be kind, be compassionate, be supportive and if you need tips on talking about suicide check out these resources at: www.conversationsmatter.com.au
I’d urge other scriptwriters and producers in Australia developing content related to suicide to get in touch with the Mindframe team at Everymind for support, advice and links to other services, experts and those with lived experience that can help shape authentic, truthful and safe representations about suicide.
For news media covering the series and this change or discussion around the scene in question, please also be mindful of the way you report the discussion and refer to your own codes of practice and support provided by Mindframe and many other organisations and services in Australia. Resources to support media reporting and portrayal of suicide in Australia are available through Mindframe – www.mindframe.org.au
If you feel impacted by this news, the following help-seeking information is available:
National 24/7 Crisis Services:
Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 79 www.mensline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au