The Englert Theatre — Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.
Still from Netflix’s series ’13 Reasons Why’
By Beau Pinkham, Director of Crisis Intervention Services at The Crisis Center of Johnson County
After Netflix released 13 Reasons Why, the show instantly produced record internet buzz — over 11 million Twitter mentions in the first month after its release. Increasing the visibility of suicide is important and, when done correctly, makes a difference. The show, with its millions of viewers, had potential to bring suicide prevention into public consciousness, bringing about positive change. Instead, the show produced a negative effect.
I do not support censorship, but I do support media owning its responsibility to help suicide prevention advocates like the Crisis Center of Johnson County provide a coherent message for people who are thinking about suicide. Producers skirted the topic of suicide prevention, half-heartedly publicizing suicide prevention resources only after facing public backlash.
Because of their apathy, crisis centers (whose resources are already stretched thin) are left to face the consequences.
The Crisis Center is one of many agencies across the country tasked with helping people continue this conversation about suicide. Our mission is to put ourselves in spaces where clients are. We teach. We reach out. We try to support people, whether they find us or we find them.
But despite what may appear a fresh opportunity to spread awareness, I am concerned with our ability to meet the demand created by this one show.
13 Reasons Why dominates the mental space of the suicide prevention professionals I regularly engage with. At a sociology conference I attended in April, the show came up at almost every session. And the show’s damaging messages affect Iowans too. Here in Johnson County, the Crisis Center answered calls from local schools and student groups concerned by the effects they saw in their youth. We presented information about suicide to kids, teens, teachers and advisers in a frank, non-sensationalized way.
We cannot reach everyone who viewed the show, yet we must continue trying.
I am sick of talking about 13 Reasons Why.
Since 13 Reasons Why first became available on Netflix, searches for “How to commit suicide” increased by 26 percent, according to research by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
This finding scares me.
The rallying cry of media types defending these kinds of pieces is that it “starts a conversation” about suicide for the greater good. But there is no greater good when someone who has suicidal thoughts sees media like 13 Reasons Why and looks up how to complete the act.
I often wonder about the people who never find us. Those who, after seeing a young girl kill herself in her bathtub during a graphic three-minute-long scene, turn to Google and start reading whatever they may find on the vast, cultural wilderness of the internet.
After watching their highly problematic depiction, viewers receive no information about where they can turn to continue the conversation. And despite 13 episodes worth of content, some of the most important questions about suicide remain unanswered: What is the right way to talk about suicide? What are the warning signs? What can the public do to prevent the millions of other suicides that will happen in America in 2017?
I am writing this to make you aware that the Crisis Center is here to help you answer some of those questions. Our trained, non-judgmental staff is here to help 24-hours a day, by phone at 855-325-4296 or chat at iowacrisischat.org. We’re here for you.
No matter where you are in your mental health journey, the Crisis Center is here to keep this conversation going. All you have to do is reach out. Even if you haven’t struggled with mental health and just want to learn what you can do to help others, we hope you will help us continue the conversation by attending The S Word, a free documentary screening, Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 227.