The parents of two 15-year-old girls, one in Livermore and one in San Mateo, say that their children each took their own lives just days after watching the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The show centers on a teen girl's suicide and its aftermath, and includes a graphic depiction of the suicide itself, and the parents are speaking out to KTVU saying that they believe the show was a trigger for their girls.
The 13-episode drama, released on March 31, tells the story of 16-year-old Hannah Baker, and her posthumous explanations for why she killed herself, told via 13 cassette tapes that she leaves behind for friends. It was executive produced by pop star Selena Gomez, and was shot largely in the Bay Area.
15-year-old Bella Herndon of Livermore took her own life by hanging herself on April 18, 2017, and her father, John Herndon, tells KTVU, "There's no word that describes my contempt for the people that did this. You can't convince me that they were trying to attract people's attention to the issue of suicide by showing a little girl killing herself. There's nothing positive about that."
15-year-old Priscilla Chiu of San Mateo, who also hanged herself, took her own life on April 22. Her uncle also tells the station he believes the show served as a trigger for his niece.
Chiu's family does not go into details about her other possible motivations. Herndon's parents say that Bella struggled with depression and had been bullied since middle school.
13 Reasons Why creator Brian Yorkey issued a statement saying, "Many people are accusing the show of glamorizing suicide, and I feel very strongly that we did the exact opposite. What we did was portray suicide and we portrayed it as very ugly and very damaging."
Similarly, back on April 19, show writer Nic Sheff wrote an op-ed in Vanity Fair defending the decision to depict Hannah's suicide on screen, speaking of his own suicide attempt and suggesting that it was only through hearing the horror story of another person's failed suicide attempt that left her brutally injured, and remembering it in a critical moment, that he decided to save his own life. The show, he said, "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." Sheff added, "It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all... Facing these issues head-on talking about them, being open about them will always be our best defense against losing another life."
The release of the show, around the time that Bay Area teens were taking spring break, prompted at least one Peninsula school district to issue a warning to parents about the show's content, and suicide prevention advocates have argued that the depiction does more harm than good for the mentally vulnerable.
Netflix gave a brief statement in response to KTVU's piece, saying only, "We have heard from many viewers that 13 Reasons Why has opened up a dialogue among parents, teens, schools and mental health advocates around the difficult topics depicted in the show. We took extra precautions to alert viewers to the nature of the content and created a global website to help people find local mental health resources."
John Herndon, for one, is arguing that Netflix should have never renewed the show for a second season. That began production earlier this month.
If you are in crisis, text "BAY" to 741741 for free, 24/7, confidential crisis support from Crisis Text Line. And if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you or they should call the San Francisco Suicide Prevention crisis line at 415-781-0500.
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.