by Rebecca Giovannetti
Launched last March, the Netflix original series phenomenon 13 Reasons Why opened a worldwide debate about suicide. Based on the 2007 Jay Asher’s novel, the 13-episode series revolves around a teenager, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide after experiencing successive tragic and traumatizing events, such as bullying, cyberbullying, and rape.
The series starts with a sequence that shows one of Hannah’s classmates, receiving 13 tapes recorded by her. In each of these, Hannah explains to each person that failed her the wrong they did and the part they played in her suicide.
In Brazil, the effects of this series amongst young people are palpable. In April, one month after the series premiere, there was a 445 percent increase in help calls and emails to the Brazilian center for suicide prevention, the Centro de Valorização da Vida, attributed to this extraordinary increase to the themes the Netflix series portrays.
According to a Latin American University of Social Sciences study, the suicide rate in Brazil had a 62.5 percent increase from 1980 to 2012, making suicide the third cause of death behind homicide and car crashes. However, this topic is still not easily discussed among families and news outlets.
While it is very hard to pinpoint exactly what makes young people want to end their lives, the common factor for more than 50 percent of suicide amongst teenagers is a major and continuous depression, according to a study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses in Brazil, with 80 to 90 percent diagnosed responding well to treatment and gaining relief from the symptoms.
However, understanding that depressed young people can also take their own lives is hard, even in modern days.
Psychiatrist Neury José Botega says that shedding light on the subject and opening the conversation in Brazilian family circles can help prevent such tragedies. “Since suicide is still a taboo subject, we can have the wrong impression that the problem doesn’t exist on a big scale. But this is not true,” he said in an interview for a Brazilian magazine.
13 Reasons Why sparked many conversations and critiques as suicide is the final and absolute narrative of Hannah. Yet, the way factors that led to her death are shown to viewers opened up discussions on how most people consider adolescents’ emotions.
Experiences during teenage years, formatting the transition to adulthood, mean the most to the psychological and emotional growth of the teenager. However, not many Brazilian families talk about suicide and the reasons behind it, dismissing these factors as teenage drama.
The fact that 13 Reasons Why caused an astronomical 445 percent increase in calls for help in Brazil should not be ignored. It displays an intrinsic and desperate need for this topic to gain importance in the Brazilian community, a need many psychologists already agree should not be brushed aside.
The Netflix original series opens up the suicide topic in many other countries that still consider suicide as taboo, the United States included, where suicide is also the third leading cause of death among American young people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Right now, it is too soon to tell how much more the topic of suicide will expand in the Brazilian familial dialogue, but it is clear that 13 Reasons Why stirred the need for Brazilians to address these issues. New generations won’t be easily shut down by tradition and taboo anymore.