Nearly a year after Netflix's 13 Reasons Why premiered and almost immediately sparked a global conversation about how teen suicide is portrayed in pop culture, Netflix announced Wednesday the teen drama’s second season will take more steps to ensure the show doesn't endanger any young lives.
“We didn’t know in Season 1 that the conversation was going to be this big,” Brian Wright, Netflix’s vice president of original series, told BuzzFeed News in an interview on Wednesday. “What we’re doing now with the lead-up to launch is working with organizations all over the globe, mental health organizations, and school counselor organizations to make sure that people are armed with information and ready for these conversations.”
The show, which tells the story of high schooler Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) and the aftermath of her suicide, was met with criticism from some parents, teachers, and mental health experts who said the TV series was too graphic, misrepresented the mental illness aspect of suicide, and glorified suicide. Some parents even said the show was responsible for their children expressing suicidal thoughts or, in some cases, led to their children killing themselves.
The first season did feature warnings about the show’s content, but Wright said that heading into Season 2 a new warning video will play before the start of the show that includes cast members addressing the audience as themselves, not their characters.
13 Reasons Why is a fictional series that tackles tough, real-world issues,” Justin Prentice, who plays Bryce Walker, says in the video.
“If you are struggling with these issues yourself, this series may not be right for you, or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult,” continues Alisha Boe, who plays Jessica Davis.
Netflix also plans to add a downloadable discussion guide to 13reasonswhy.info, a website of resources for viewers, as well as air another aftershow in Season 2 similar to the 30-minute short documentary, Beyond the Reasons, that followed the first season.
The news comes after Netflix commissioned a study from Northwestern University that sheds some light on how young people and parents responded to the original series.
The global study was led and authored by Ellen Wartella, Alexis Lauricella, and Drew Cingel from Northwestern’s Center on Media and Human Development. From Nov. 2017 until Jan. 2018, young adults and parents of teens in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil took an online survey and answered questions determined by the study authors.
Wartella and Lauricella said the intention of the study was to understand the impact 13 Reasons Why had on teens and parents' perspectives on serious adolescent issues.
“As academics and scientists, we were really interested in this idea of how kids’ attitudes were toward this show after viewing, what impact they felt it had on them, and how it may have changed their behavior,” Lauricella told BuzzFeed News.
The majority of the study’s participants said they wanted the show to give more support and resources than it initially provided. Some 50–56% of young adults surveyed said they thought there should be more discussion in the show itself about how to help people who might be suffering, while 62–74% of parents wanted more mental health resources at the end of difficult episodes.
Additionally, almost two-thirds of parents also said they wanted actors to come out of character and give more resources at the end of some episodes — a feature being used in the warning video that will now play before the show.
The study also found that more than two-thirds of parents were inspired to talk with their children about difficult subject matter after watching 13 Reasons Why, as were 71% of teens. About three-quarters of young viewers said after watching the show, they made an effort to be more conscious of how they treat other people; and three-quarters of teens said the show helped them feel more comfortable dealing with difficult topics.
Notably, the survey does not contain any questions, however, on whether the show inspired any suicidal thoughts, or “suicide ideation,” among viewers.
Wartella said they didn’t ask participants questions about suicidal ideation or if the show negatively affected their mental health because those questions weren’t approved by their institutional review board, a group at the university that works to ensure the confidentiality, safety, and well-being of survey participants.
“We would’ve had to provide support and expertise and help to them; that’s required by our institutional review board,” Wartella said. “We could not provide that since the data was collected in five regions of the world, so our IRB was pretty adamant that we could not ask those questions without ensuring that we would provide any subjects who reported a problem with support.”
Wright, the Netflix vice president, said the show grapples with complex, tough issues, “and that’s why we’re putting so much effort into providing as many resources as possible.”
“And at the end of the day, that’s all we can do,” he said. “But we feel like by shining a light on these topics and on these tough things that have often lived in the shadows, ultimately there is a greater good that’s happening there. That is the hope.”