Mental health professionals and the chief censor are warning a US drama series depicting teenage suicide and rape could be harmful to Kiwi teenagers.
13 Reasons Why, a 13-part show about a teenage girl who commits suicide, was released in New Zealand on March 31 and has been given an adult rating by Netflix.
In addition to suicide the series includes rape, drug use and bullying. A graphic content warning precedes four of episodes.
Molly Clark, 16, watched the series last week after recommendations from friends and said it was shocking but important for teenagers to watch.
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“I’ve never seen something so graphic on television before. It really did shock me.”
Mental Health Foundation New Zealand chief executive Shaun Robinson said he had not watched the show but was concerned it was depicting suicide in a way that was irresponsible and dangerous.
“It is important to discuss suicide but what is not appropriate is to raise these issues in a context of a lack of hope and to present the notion of someone taking their own life as inevitable or heroic or something to be emulated,” he said.
Clark, a Canterbury high school student, said 13 Reasons Why made people take the issue of suicide seriously.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to, they’ve been saying it changes your perspective on a lot of things and on how you treat others and I think that is something really important that it brings.”
The chief censor, Dr Andrew Jack, has requested a classification after being alerted to the series “strong” content by a member of the public, Office of Film and Literature Classification senior advisor Henry Talbot said.
“Being that it is likely to be of interest to a younger audience it is particularly important that Netflix viewers are given trusted information about the content and the potential harm to young people.”
Classification would take two weeks and involve consultation with some teenagers and consideration of the Ministry of Health’s guidelines for media portrayals of suicide. Netflix would have an opportunity to make a submission.
Suicide prevention advocate Mike King said the show was “excellent” at raising awareness about the drivers of suicide.
“It’s giving people an opportunity to see the triggers for suicidal behaviour to see how maybe they are contributing to someone else’s hard time.”
He had not watched the show but had received “running commentaries” from his wife and two teenage daughters.
Ruby Methven, King’s 15-year-old daughter, said the show was very relevant to Kiwi teenagers and promoted discussion of suicide.
“I liked that it didn’t hide anything. I’ve seen other shows and read books where they talk about suicide in a quiet manner, they clean it up so it doesn’t seem as bad as it is but this was just, everything was out there . . . so there was no going around it.”
She said 13 Reasons Why encouraged young people to talk openly about their feelings.
“You have to feel like you have people in your life that you can trust with it and it has to be able to be talked about without being seen as something shameful – it’s how people are feeling and if they can’t talk about it will just keep going.”
WHERE TO GET HELP
* Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354 * Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757 * Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116 * Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666 * Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends. * Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email email@example.com * 0800 WHATSUP children’s helpline – phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz. * Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors. * Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP) * Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).