After her daughter's 'copycat suicide', this mother is warning young people about '13 Reasons Why' - Hack - triple j

Jan 13, 2020 5:30 AM
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Like thousands of young people around the world, Joyce Deithorn's daughter Emily loved Netflix's teen drama series 13 Reasons Why. Emily's friend group was obsessed and she got sucked into the show's characters. But the 19-year-old had a history of mental health issues.

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"Emily was very brilliant, smart, caring, loving, just had a lot of mental issues," Joyce told Hack.

"She had bipolar disorder, she had depression, and anxiety."

Because of this history, Joyce decided to watch the first two episodes of 13 Reasons Why with her daughter.

"Then I begged her not to watch it anymore," she said.

"When I saw what it was about and I was hearing stories about how it was going to go at the end, I said, 'Emily, this is not a story for you to watch, because I don't feel that you can handle this. This is too hard for you.'."

Emily watched the rest of the first season and in June 2017 Emily took her own life in the same way the main character did in the show.

The show revolves around a teenager who leaves behind a set of tapes detailing the reasons why she took her own life. 13 Reasons Why has been criticised by mental health experts for its glamorisation of suicide which led to Netflix editing out a graphic suicide scene in the first season's final episode, two years after its release.

It's impossible to pin down a specific, single reason for someone's suicide, but research has found the suicide rate for young people in the US jumped the month after 13 Reasons Why started streaming. The show's third season has just been released.

"After Emily had taken her life, I was writing to Netflix, I was writing to the doctors... I was trying to reach out to people trying to get it gone," Joyce said.

"I didn't want somebody else's child to die the way my child died."

"There is help out there and they don't see that... it takes a long time to get them there."


Emily and Joyce

What are the concerns with graphically depicting suicide on TV?

The main concern among mental health professionals when it comes to the depiction of suicide in the media is the "copycat effect" among vulnerable young people. It's the reason why journalists are urged to never publish the method or location of a suicide in their reporting.

"My concerns with the show are the contagion issue, which is when people start thinking about suicide, and then are reminded of it and the whole program is around somebody's suicide," mental health researcher from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Dr Michael Musker told Hack.

"However, it's really important that we do talk about it.

So the balance is a very fine line on how you present the issues, but it's important that we don't ignore the issues and keep it as something we shouldn't talk about.

Dr Musker said suicide rates have been rising regardless of the show. A new report released today has found suicide deaths could increase up to 40 per cent in Australia in the next decade, if the rates of the last ten years continue.

He said if you're already struggling mentally, you shouldn't watch the show but discussions about suicide in popular culture are important.

"I think it's part of life but in general, we avoid talking about it.

"We're scared of talking about suicide...If somebody tells you that they have feelings of taking their own life... you'd find that very difficult to cope with.

"You just need to listen to that person, spend time with them, and take the opportunity for them to share their story with you."

Joyce Deithorn said she doesn't want discussions about mental health and suicide to be totally eradicated from popular culture either. But she said it's important young people with mental health problems tread carefully.

"I do feel that there's a lot of stigma around mental health and suicide," she said.

"I'm hoping the new season will help people, [suicide] won't be so glamorized and help people to understand more and more about it."