Netflix is cutting the graphic suicide scene in the first season of the show 13 Reasons Why that infamously features the main character Hannah Baker taking her own life in the finale episode. The move comes two years after the series was released and almost immediately — and rightfully — labeled a public health threat. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children 10 years old and up. Suicide contagion, or the idea that people who are exposed to suicide through their families, peers, or media, are more at risk for taking their own lives, is a well documented psychological phenomenon.
“No one scene is more important than the life of the show, and its message that we must take better care of each other,” show creator Brian Yorkey said in a statement. “We believe this edit will help the show do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers.”
Still, for adolescents and teenagers responsible for making 13 Reasons Why a successful show, removing the scene may be too little too late. One of the first studies to look at the impact of the series just months after it’s March 2017 release analyzed Google trends data and found an alarming 26 percent increase in the search “how to commit suicide” following the first season release. This was one of the first, but far from the last time psychologists pointed Yorkey in the direction of the World Health Organization’s guidelines about how to portray suicide in media — mainly, the recommendation to not do it at all.
“Repeated and continual coverage of suicide tends to induce and promote suicidal preoccupations, particularly among adolescents and young adults,” the guidelines state.
More recent research confirms that it’s not just the Google searches, but actual suicide attempts that have increased since that scene became publicly available. A 2019 study concluded that the release of 13 Reasons Why was linked with a 29 percent increase in the suicide rate for adolescents between 10 and 17 years old, with nearly 200 more suicides than predicted nine months after the show was released.
Deleting the suicide scene late might be arguably better than never, but for the children, adolescents, teenagers who made 13 Reasons Why the success that it is, the damage has been done. The scene might be gone, but that doesn’t mean the consequences of having it in plain sight for so long have ceased or will. If anything this seems like less of a measure to prevent suicide and more of a promotional one to drum up publicity for a more responsible season three. Or perhaps the show’s creator realized if he wants young people to continue to watch the series, they have to survive it first.
“Our creative intent in portraying the ugly, painful reality of suicide in such graphic detail in Season 1 was to tell the truth about the horror of such an act, and make sure no one would ever wish to emulate it,” Yorkey added. “But as we ready to launch Season 3, we have heard concerns about the scene from Dr. Christine Moutier at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and others, and have agreed with Netflix to re-edit it.”