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13 Reasons Why Writer Defends the Show's Graphic Suicide Scene

Nic Sheff reveals his personal connection to the scene

Liz Raftery

13 Reasons Why, Netflix's adaptation of Jay Asher's YA novel about a high school student who commits suicide, has come under fire by some mental health organizations for its graphic depiction of the scene in which Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) kills herself.

The suicide itself is not depicted in the book; readers learn from the book's narrator, Clay, that Hannah killed herself by intentionally overdosing on pills. But the suicide method was changed for the TV adaptation and, in an op-ed for Vanity Fair defending the scene, show writer Nic Sheff says the choice was a deliberate one.

"It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could've done would have been not to show the death at all," Sheff writes. "In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It's the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all -- it's a screaming, agonizing horror."

13 Reasons Why: We need to talk about that ending

Some mental health organizations have called the depiction of suicide in 13 Reasons Why "risky," citing an increase in calls to suicide hotlines as evidence that the show triggers depression and suicidal thoughts in at-risk viewers.

Sheff -- who previously attempted suicide himself -- says he finds the negative responses "surprising," since what saved him during his attempt was recalling a friend's story of her own unsuccessful suicide attempt.

"In other words, they thought it would be better to leave her character's death to the imagination," he writes. "From the very beginning, I agreed that we should depict the suicide with as much detail and accuracy as possible. I even argued for it -- relating the story of my own suicide attempt to the other writers. ... It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like -- to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse."

Read Sheff's full op-ed here.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) anytime for a confidential conversation with a trained counselor.