Writer of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why pens essay defending graphic suicide scene

Trailer: 13 Reasons Why

Follows teenager Clay Jensen, in his quest to uncover the story behind his classmate and crush, Hannah, and her decision to end her life.

A writer on Netflix's controversial teen drama 13 Reasons Why has defended the series' explicit depiction of a character's suicide, despite widespread condemnation from suicide prevention advocates.

"I stand behind what we did 100 per cent," series writer Nic Sheff wrote in an essay for Vanity Fair.

"I know I 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."

Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in <i>13 Reasons Why</i>.
Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons WhyPhoto: Netflix

The popular series, based on the 2007 novel of the same name, is set in the aftermath of a teenage girl's suicide, charting the incidents – including cyberbullying and sexual assault – that led her to death.

A confronting scene in the season's final episode – which graphically shows lead character Hannah Baker (Perth actress Katherine Langford) taking her own life – has earned rebukes from professionals and viewers both locally and overseas, who've labelled it "irresponsible" and "exploitative".  

In his essay, Sheff says he was caught offguard by the backlash.

"From the very beginning, I agreed that we should depict the suicide with as much detail and accuracy as possible," he wrote. "I even argued for it – relating the story of my own suicide attempt to the other writers."

Recalling a story told to him by a woman he'd once met while in drug rehab who had explicitly detailed her suicide attempt to him, Sheff said he believed being open about the realities of suicide could help with prevention.

"The memory came to me like a shock. It staggered me. And it saved my life," he wrote.


"So when it came time to discuss the portrayal of the protagonist's suicide in 13 Reasons Why, I of course immediately flashed on my 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 when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse.

"It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could've done would have been not to show the death at all," he added.

"Facing these issues head-on – talking about them, being open about them – will always be our best defense against losing another life."

Sheff's defense echoes that of series creator Brian Yorkey, who outlined his intent in Beyond The Reasons, a half-hour discussion with the show's stars and counselling experts that's also available on Netflix. 

"We worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide," he said.

While some viewers have backed the team's explanations, their defense remains at odds with the recommendations of mental health professionals.

Earlier this week, local organisation Headspace issued a warning saying the series could lead to "increased risk and possible suicide contagion".

"There is a responsibility for broadcasters to know what they are showing and the impact that certain content can have on an audience – and a young audience in particular," Dr Steven Leicester, the head of the organisation's online counselling service, said in a statement. 

If you are troubled by this report or experiencing a personal crisis, you can contact:

Lifeline 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

BeyondBlue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au

Mensline 1300 789 978

KidsHelpline 1800 551 800