Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has attracted a ton of attention since almost the moment it was released on the streaming platform at the end of March. While fans were quick to praise the series for its realistic portrayal of teenage life through characters Hannah and Clay, soon came though who saw it as a series glamorizing suicide, and slammed the series for showing the suicide of the main character in graphic detail.
However, Nic Sheff, a writer for the series, has recently come out defending how #13ReasonsWhy dealt with Hannah's suicide in an essay for Vanity Fair, where he spoke from a place of knowledge, having once attempted suicide himself.
Sheff says that the moment he read the pilot script for 13 Reasons Why he knew it was a project he wanted to be involved with. He felt drawn to a series which would cover such important issues, though also felt a deep responsibility to show the realities of decisions such as suicide, and says he actually fought for the graphic suicide scene to be included.
"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.
While my reasons for ending my life were far different from the protagonist’s of 13 Reasons Why, there were some similarities. We both experienced a feeling of complete and utter defeat. Circumstances — some extreme and some quotidian — compiled to back us up against a wall with the feeling that nothing we ever did could ever repair the damage done, and that all last traces of hope had been blotted out completely."
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For Sheff the reason for the scene was simple, he wanted to eliminate any lingering notion that committing suicide was a quiet end life, something he knew to be a myth from his own experience.
"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. It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all — it’s a screaming, agonizing, horror… So I stand behind what we did 100 percent. 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."
Sheff goes onto recount how, during a period in his life when he'd lost control and the ability to remain sober, he attempted to kill himself with an overdose — a route he figured to be reasonable peaceful. However, part way through the attempt he remembered the harrowing story of a woman who survived a similar suicide attempt. After assuming she would float off peacefully, the woman's body actually violently reacted to the attempt and she ended up running head first into a glass door, smashing her face and bones before passing out and waking the next morning in unimaginable pain, the attempt having failed. It was this memory that made Scheff stop his own attempt, and is what he credits with saving his life.
Given his own experience it's easy to see why Nic Sheff believes it was so important to show Hannah's suicide in 13 Reasons Why. And although the scene remains the center of much debate, ultimately the fact that the show has ignited such a huge conversation around the topic of suicide and mental health has to be a good thing. Especially considering that suicide — something which is totally avoidable — is now the 10th leading cause of death in the US, and 17th leading cause worldwide.
If you are contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
Do you think the suicide scene in 13 Reasons Why is gratuitous?