Tackling issues in a graphic manner on-screen? | 13 Reasons Why

In the last couple of weeks, I've watched two worlds collide; mental health and Netflix. I can't say as I ever thought I'd see that happen! However, it has happened, with Jay Asher's book Thirteen Reasons Why being adapted for the screen in the form of a 13 episode series for Netflix.

Having read the book in my early teens, I was torn as to whether or not I ought to now watch the series. I'm not in the best place right now in terms of my mental health, so there's always that worry about being tipped in the wrong direction by something I read or watch.

After some thought, though, I decided to watch. I could always skip the really troublesome scenes, right? Well, in theory, yes. In reality, though, I was glued to the screen.

The content warnings at the start of the particularly graphic episodes were a welcome sight. I've long thought we could use such content warnings for episodes of series that hold distressing content, I've just never been sure how it might work. 13 Reasons Why showed that they can work.

However, when it came to scenes involving sexual assault/rape – something I don't remember being present in the book, though I could be mistaken – I regularly found myself either watching through my fingers or pausing and walking away to catch my breath. It was difficult. I often found myself shaking when I stopped seeing Hannah on the screen and started seeing myself.

And still, the hardest was yet to come. Episode 13. If you've watched the series, you probably know what I mean. The suicide scene.

I'm swinging back and forth in my opinions on this. Was it necessary? I understand that it causes the viewer to be shocked, and to realise that this is a reality faced by too many of our young people. But the blogger in me thinks...well, we're advised not to use graphic details when talking about suicide because of the proven risk of “copycat” suicides in the following weeks. I'm concerned that we may see a similar fallout as a result of this scene.

At that point, I paused, closed my laptop, and gasped for breath between sobs. Here I am, someone who talks about her own suicide attempts openly, and there I was, in desperate need of a hug and somebody to talk to. It was difficult, to say the least. I worry for others who watched that scene who are more vulnerable than I am.

All in all, I'm torn. I'm truly torn. This series is creating conversation, which is important and completely fantastic. However, I'm not altogether convinced that it was done in a way that was sensitive to real people living with these thoughts. Is boldness really what we need right now? Maybe it is, or maybe we need to think about how we can deal with these issues with compassion.