It’s difficult to think of a recent TV series that has prompted as fervent a discussion of mental health and suicide as much as Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why.
The show’s been taken to task for its graphic and detailed depiction of suicide, and labelled as “dangerous content” by Australian mental health organisation Headspace.
Now, New Zealand’s Classification Office has decided to give 13 Reasons Why a new, unique rating: RP18. That limits the series to viewers over the age of 18, unless supervised by a parent or guardian.
RP18 is a variation from the authority’s usual classifications of RP16, which limits viewing by those under the age of 16 unless with an adult, and R16, which makes it completely illegal for those under 16 to view.
For classification authorities, applying the appropriate rating is a delicate balance between the show’s artistic merit and its very real danger to vulnerable people, particularly teenagers.
“We have considered whether an RP16 or R16 could be an appropriate classification, but these classifications would not address the harm caused to sixteen and seventeen year olds (who are at statistically greater risk of suicide),” the Classification Office wrote on their website.
The authority noted the show has significant merit in addressing “issues that are highly relevant to young people, including suicide, sexual violence, bullying, and slut-shaming,” and “presents a good opportunity to raise awareness around youth mental health issues.”
It “does not follow international guidelines for responsible representations of suicide.”
They say, however, that it fails to promote “positive examples of appropriate responses to rape disclosures,” and that it “does not follow international guidelines for responsible representations of suicide.
“Hannah’s suicide is presented fatalistically. Her death is represented at times as not only a logical, but an unavoidable outcome of the events that follow,” the post added.
“Suicide should not be presented to anyone as being the result of clear headed thinking. Suicide is preventable, and most people who experience suicidal thoughts are not thinking rationally and therefore cannot make logical decisions.”
Deputy Chief Censor Jared Mullen told Radio New Zealand he’s aware that some teenagers would find some of the scenes uncomfortable to watch alongside their parents, but assured the station it isn’t necessary for them to watch the show side-by-side.
“All that’s really essential is that [parents] know their kids are watching it, that they watch it at the same time or ahead of their kids … and most importantly, they talk to their children about the themes in the show,” he told the station.
While it’s difficult to see if the classification will have any impact, for New Zealand viewers, there will be additional warnings on top of Netflix’s content warning as a result of the decision.
But if we know young people, determined kids will likely find a way to stream the series regardless of the decision. That is, if they haven’t seen it already.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.