Concerns Over New Netflix Content

 In MHFA, MHFAfSP, Popular Culture, YMHFA

When the hit Netflix TV show Thirteen Reasons Why was released earlier this year, many mental health professionals raised concerns about the portrayal of mental illness. The show depicts a high-schooler, Hannah Baker, who creates a series of tapes detailing the reason for her suicide and the people she feels are to blame. The crux of the criticism has arisen from the graphic suicide scene in the show’s finale. Critics such as Mark Henick from CNN have referred to the scene as ‘sensationalist’ and ‘dangerous’. The reception has been extremely divided, however.

The problem of stigmatisation

Here at Hero Town Geelong, we take mental health very seriously. Earlier this year we published a notice from the Mental Health First Aid board of Australia regarding the controversy surrounding the show. In reference to 13 Reasons Why, Youth Programs Manager Dr. Claire Kelly stated that:

Telling young people they shouldn’t watch it may reinforce the idea that suicide shouldn’t be discussed. Instead, it’s important for the adults around them to be ready to talk to them about the content, and about what they should do if they or one of their friends needs help.

It is important to note that portrayals that demonstrate the method of suiciding have been linked with increased rates of suicide following such broadcasts. We need to be able to have open, honest conversations with our loved ones about these issues instead of hiding them away. Since the airing of 13 Reasons Why, studies have found that Google searches that make reference to suicide have increased from between 9-26% for several different phrases. In light of these alarming statistics, the Mental Health First Aid board has created two documents to assist people with awareness surrounding the content of 13 Reasons Why. You can download those documents here.

New film To the Bone

Netflix has once again come under scrutiny for their approach to mental illness by releasing an original film called To the Bone.The film depicts a young woman experiencing the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Headspace, the Australian organisation dedicated to raising awareness and support for young people with mental illness, has released a statement regarding the portrayal of the disorder. The CEO of Headspace, Jason Trethowan, stated the following:

The concern is about the portrayal of behaviours associated with an eating disorder – and whether this may be providing a ‘how to’ guide for adolescents who may be at risk.

It is an unfortunate trend that portraying self-destructive behaviours linked with mental illness can increase the likelihood of viewers emulating the behaviour. There are concerns that images from the trailer for To the Bone have appeared on ‘thinspo’ blogs, which romanticise anorexia and other eating disorders.

The importance of understanding mental health

It is important that we know how to speak to someone who is experiencing a mental illness, without distressing them even further. When in that situation where a friend or family member seems to be struggling, it can be difficult to know exactly what to do or say for fear of making it even worse. It can be a thin line to tread, but it is important to have these conversations equipped with the knowledge and tools to handle the situation carefully and respectfully. Acquiring certification as a Mental Health First Aider is an important step to obtaining that knowledge and resources. Empower yourself to take action today by booking a MHFA training session.

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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