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Safe and Effective Portrayals of Suicide in the Media

From Logic to “13 Reasons Why”

This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.

BACKGROUND:

With the rise of youth access to popular media, creating safe and effective portrayals of suicide can only become more and more vital to the health of young people in the US and around the world. Movies, music, TV shows, plays, and the news are all sources of influence on young people, and the way they choose to portray suicide can have a major effect on viewers.

“Sometimes I think that the news and media portrays suicide as a rational or normal thing to do which should not be the case.”- Anonymous


THE CHALLENGE:

Because of the rising popularity of modern media, the way suicide is portrayed can have a profound effect on at-risk teens. Below are two different portrayals of suicide in the media: a clip of a TV show (based on a book) entitled “13 Reasons Why”, Logic’s song “1-800-273-8255” (the number for the suicide hotline), and a song from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen”, entitled “You Will Be Found”. Where do you see differences in their portrayal? Which is safer and more effective? Why?

 


THE SOLUTION:

While it may not be completely obvious, there is a major difference between these three clips. “13 Reasons Why” has created a portrayal of suicide that essentially romanticizes it. In fact, after its airing, the number of internet searches for suicide jumped up immensely. According to CNN, “mental health experts describe the show as worrisome and point to how its relatable characters and graphic depiction of suicide can pose a health risk for young people already struggling with mental health issues”. Because the show depicted Hannah’s suicide in a graphic and distinct way, the search for “how to commit suicide” online rose 26% (CNN). By failing to properly provide an outlet for suicidal teens, “13 Reasons Why” may have inadvertently perpetuated the issue of teen suicide. According to an anonymous student at my school, “I feel like certain pieces of media romanticize teen suicide, and it’s very rare to find something that truly reflects what it is like instead of a lighter take on it. Teens then feel like it isn’t as serious as it is”. This firsthand perspective gives an insight into how teens react to portrayals of suicide like “13 Reasons Why”.

In contrast, “1-800-273-8255” and “You Will Be Found” help at-risk teens feel as if they are not alone, and that there is help out there. Both create a strong sense of empathy, which is a central idea to this course. In contrast to the previous student quoted, another student wrote, “Most forms of media have an underlying message that can help people going through these thoughts cope with their mind. Providing humor or relief to know that there are others who feel the same way. It can be hard to describe how one feels about their own emotions, so when there is a form of their thoughts depicted in a song, it can help them or motivate them to keep fighting.” In particular, Logic’s “1-800” had a profound effect on youth. In a tweet, he included the following statistics:

Clearly, there are very effective ways to portray suicide in ways that help at-risk teens feel that help is out there. In addition to the title of the song, Logic’s music video includes many depictions of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, in case any viewers are considering suicide. This is the most effective way to portray suicide because it provides an outlet for at-risk teens.


WHAT’S NEXT?

If you have any questions or comments about my project, I would love to hear them. How has the media affected your perception of teen suicide? Throughout this course, we have been practicing using the “What if….? How might we….? I wonder…..?” format for providing feedback. I encourage you to do the same.

Next, I plan to move forward by talking to the student and faculty Senate at my school about this topic. How can the school get involved in creating or filtering media so that we encourage safe and effective portrayals of the topic?


SOURCES CITED:

Armstrong, Megan. “Logic Tweets National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Statistics Since His ‘1-800’ Release.” Billboard, 16 Nov. 2017, www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/8039094/logic-1-800-273-8255-national-suicide-prevention-lifeline-statistics-tweet.

Firestone, Lisa. “Suicide in the Media.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 5 May 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201705/suicide-in-the-media.

Howard, Jacqueline. “’13 Reasons Why’ Tied to Rise in Suicide Searches Online.” CNN, Cable News Network, 31 July 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/07/31/health/13-reasons-why-suicide-study/index.html.

Mueller, Anna S. “Does the Media Matter to Suicide?: Examining the Social Dynamics Surrounding Media Reporting on Suicide in a Suicide-Prone Community.” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 180, 2017, pp. 152–159., doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.03.019.

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COMMENTS: 16
  1. April 26, 2018 by Caroline Ortiz

    Hey! I liked the way you used specific examples from the media and their effects on suicide. I agree completely about the show 13 Reasons Why– when it first came out, I was shocked and worried about the effects it would have. To me, it shows someone who makes it seem like there was no other option for life other than to end it. Never once was a suicide hotline mentioned or video of Hannah seeking help from a professional. Do you think this was the point of the film makers? How do you think the show should have ended? Was there other ways they could have gone with it? I know they included an “after show” clip that included all the actors talking about suicide, its prominence, and ways to get help. But I personally don’t think this was enough. It’s sad how popular and romanticized this show was at the time.

    • April 27, 2018 by Emma.Healy

      Thank you for your feedback Caroline! I definitely agree with your point about “13 Reasons Why”. To answer your questions, I can’t speak personally for the directors of the show, but had their original intent been to use their platform as a way to prevent teen suicide, they definitely would have included some scenario of Hannah seeking help or a depiction of where a person could get help if they needed it. While the show is based on a novel, and the directors couldn’t stray too far from the plot, the ending of the show served the opposite purpose of helping teens in need. The “after show” clip that you mentioned is definitely a step in the right direction though!

  2. April 27, 2018 by Emma Mansoor

    I think that the examples you used were really relevant. I think that your points about how 13 Reasons Why doesn’t have positives for teens struggling is so important. I also really like your point about how kids who are already struggling might be exacerbated by seeing suicide depiction. I also think that the statistics about Logic’s song are so interesting. It’s good to know that the media is also having positive effects on teens, too.

    • April 27, 2018 by Emma.Healy

      Thanks Emma! I really appreciate your feedback! While the reality is that often the media wrongly depicts suicide, at the same time, artists and content creators are taking a lot of really strong steps toward a better overall media presence.

  3. April 27, 2018 by Summer

    Emma,
    This was a great presentation! You clearly put a lot of work into this area, and I felt like I learned a lot more from your project. I remember when I first watched 13 reasons why – I knew the plot from having read the book, but I felt like they definitely dramatized the protagonist’s suicide in the show. With the new season of the show coming out soon, I hope the producers are much more conscientious about being sensitive with regard to suicide. Thank you for sharing!

    • April 29, 2018 by Emma Healy

      Thank you, Summer! I agree- it will be interesting to see if the production staff makes an effort for the second season to address the controversy raised after the first season.

  4. April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

    Emma, I really like how you involved Logic and his song in your project. I’ve found his work very inspiring, so I really liked to see add the stats on how Lifeline was immediately used much more and helped so many more people after. The media has a powerful impact on people around the world, and Logic’s song helped so many people. As you said, as media becomes more popular and accessible, it is so incredibly important to create safe and effective portrayals of suicide. Suicide shouldn’t be romanticized or ignored. Great job!

  5. April 28, 2018 by Mailie Saito

    I really enjoyed learning about your topic. I liked how you included different types of media in your project. 13 Reasons Why was such a controversial show and I wonder what the reaction will be with the new season coming up. Logic’s song is so powerful and I think he is using his platform well to raise awareness.

  6. April 29, 2018 by Portia McKoy

    Hi Emma. This is such a detailed and powerful project. I think that doing a project like this can really expose certain aspects of society that I never n=knew could have been detrimental to others. Many people think that these are just tv shows and there are no real consequences for those who watch it. But i am very pleased that you pointed out exactly what these songs and shows were doing for views and listeners. I wonder how you think people can change this on a global scale.

  7. April 29, 2018 by Rikako.Kent

    Hi Emma, you chose a really timely topic and your presentation was an interesting read. I agree with your comment “creating safe and effective portrayals of suicide can only become more and more vital to the health of young people in the US and around the world” considering how widespread media has become a how much it influences people’s lives. I remember listening to Logic’s song about the suicide hotline and thought “this is a guy using his fame and influence for good.” Definitely more celebrities should take after what he did. I liked how you gave an example of bad media and good media. Good job!

  8. April 29, 2018 by Abby Malin

    Hi Emma! I thought that your project was very thoughtful and points out major issues pertaining to teen suicide. I watched 13 Reasons Why and was wondering when the second season was coming out. When I googled the release date I found out that the second season was being delayed for the exact reasons that you mentioned in your project. I think that this is a really important thing for people to realize since the series was so popular and had such a large teen audience who may not have realized the romantization of suicide. Your 3 examples were super current and relevant and I think you had great points!!

  9. April 30, 2018 by Juli.Fernandez

    Hi! I really enjoyed your topic as it highlights a very important issue. I watched 13 Reasons Why, and I agree that it definitely romanticizes suicide. It’s sad to think that the intentions of its producers were probably quite the opposite of what actually happened after the show aired. However, I am questioning why the show has not been ended permanently yet. It is obviously having a very negative impact on its large teen audience.

  10. April 30, 2018 by Nicole Hsing

    Hi Emma,

    I really liked your project and I thought it was really important how you showed that 13 reasons why may not be the best portrayal of mental health issues. My school even sent out an email discussing how the show could be seen as a romanticism of suicide and not a healthy way of showing that suicide is not the solution for problems mentally. Logic, on the other hand, did an amazing of raising awareness of mental health and showing people across the world they are not alone in his lyrics and music video. Thank you for a wonderful presentation!

  11. April 30, 2018 by Agnes.von Reis

    Hi! I really liked your project and I thought it was so interesting how you found so many different ways that media is portraying suicide. Especially for 13 Reasons why it’s important that people highlight how it’s not a good portrayal of suicide since it has become so popular. I know that the show is working on providing more warnings before each episode about the dangers of depression and suicide but I still don’t think that the way they romanticized suicide is ok. You had really great points about this in your presentation!

  12. May 03, 2018 by Natalie

    Awesome job! I thought the specific examples which you used really helped to prove your point and I can definitely identify this phenomenon on my own from now on. I also understand the implications and the consequences of portraying suicide in the media as a result of this presentation. Nice work!

  13. May 16, 2018 by Max.Ting

    Emma, I thought that your presentation was great! Your topic is extremely relevant in today’s society. I think having mental health even come up as a topic in mainstream media is a positive. However, people must be aware of the effect that it has on young people. If suicide or depression are glorified in any way, it could be detrimental. Logic is a personal inspiration to me. I think that he does an amazing job of promoting love and equality and his song “1800 273 8255” helped many people with their struggles.

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