Two California families are supporting each other after their teens committed suicide just days after watching Netflix’s controversial “13 Reasons Why” series.
John Herndon’s daughter, Bella, and Peter Chiu’s niece, Priscilla, who had been battling depression and struggling in school, did not know one another. But the girls, both of whom were 15 years old, had watched the show around the same time and died just four days and 40 miles apart.
“It’s very graphic, especially the two-minute scene where she slits her wrists in a bathtub,” Chiu told KTVU-TV of the Netflix show. “I feel it’s dangerous for that small percentage of young adults who the show can become a trigger for them and I feel as if the show gives only one alternative for cyber-bullying and other teenage issues.”
The series does offer content warnings for its graphic depictions of violence, but these two cases will likely renew concerns about the show, which chronicles the life of Hannah Baker, played by Australian actor Katherine Langford, committing suicide after leaving audio tapes explaining the “13 Reasons Why” she killed herself.
Herndon and Chiu both said they knew their teens were troubled, but neither of them were aware the girls had watched “13 Reasons Why” — which many have suggested offers a blueprint for committing suicide — until after they died.
“Netflix is showing children how to commit suicide,” Chiu told CBS News.
Herndon said: “They provide a blueprint for that action. I agree with Peter. That is totally irresponsible.”
Chiu said his niece often told him how much she hated school. Now he said he feels “like the absolute worst adult” because he forced Priscilla to stay in school.
When the series first came out, the National Association of School Psychologists sent a notice to mental health professionals across the U.S., detailing how they should talk about the Netflix show. A spokeswoman told the Washington Post that it was the first time the association had to send out guidance about a TV program.
“Across the suicide-prevention communities and experts, there is concern in the way that the suicide is portrayed and the buildup to the suicide … could trigger suicide contagion or copycat behavior,” spokeswoman Kathy Cowan said.
The guidance advised some young people not to watch the series.
“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series,” the association said in a statement. “Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”
Some psychologists, though, are not convinced the show itself triggers suicidal thoughts. David Swanson, a clinical psychologist, does not believe the show leads to suicide.
“Anxiety, depression, and huge life stressors are the triggers for suicide,” he said.
The series, which is produced by actor and singer Selena Gomez, is based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Jay Asher.
While Netflix offered its condolences to the families of the two teenage girls, the streaming company insisted “13 Reasons Why” has opened up a dialogue for many others.
“Our hearts go out to these families during this difficult time,” the statement read. “We have heard from many viewers that ‘13 Reasons Why’ has opened up a dialogue among parents, teens, schools, and mental health advocates around the intense themes and difficult topics depicted.”
Neither Herndon nor Chiu are content with Netflix’s decision to continue the show for a second season.
“Really, you’re going to tell me that showing the tragic, dramatic death of a 15-year-old girl is supposed to provide some kind of, some kind of venue for a discussion?” Herndon told CBS.
Herndon, Bella’s father, said he would like to meet with Netflix to try to convince the company to yank the first season off the internet and cancel plans for a second season.
“My question to Netflix would be: ‘Did they take into account any potential negative impact that Season One has had?’” Chiu said.
Moving forward, the two men are determined to help other families from suffering such a tragic experience.