Netflix stirs up suicide debate

A show on Netflix has caused controversy over openly depicting and discussing suicide.

New Zealand has long had a code of silence on the substantial problem of suicide – or at times coded messages like reporting on sudden deaths as “no suspicious circumstances”.

Some have believed that talking openly about suicides will encourage more suicides, but despite only very cautious changes to reporting on and discussing suicide New Zealand’s suicide statistics remain alarmingly high.

RNZ last year: Insight: The Horror of NZ’s Suicide Rates

Suicide rates in New Zealand have remained unacceptably high since declines in the 1990s, despite a decade-long prevention plan and strategy.

The figures are so high that suicide is the third highest cause of death after heart disease and lung cancer.


The most recent finalised statistics from the Ministry of Health show that in 2012, just over 3000 people were treated in hospital after a suicide attempt, having seriously harmed themselves. In 2011, New Zealand’s youth suicide rate was the second highest in the OECD.

That increased last year.

NZ suicide toll: More discussion needed to bring down ‘unacceptably high’ rate, Chief Coroner says

During the 2016 financial year (July 2015 to June 2016), 579 Kiwis took their own lives – compared to 564 during the previous year.

While the number of people to die by suicide was at an all-time high, the rate of suicide per 100,000 people was slightly below the rate in 2011.

In 2016, the rate of people who took their own lives hit 12.33 for every 100,000 Kiwis, compared to 12.65 in 2011.

The suicide rate is awfully high regardless of minor year to fluctuations.

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said the rate of people dying by suicide remained consistent and showed New Zealand had a long way to go in turning this “unacceptably high” total around.

There needed to be more discussion about suicide prevention and how family, friends and colleagues could identify someone at risk and help them get professional support.

“Everyone should recognise the importance of taking suicidal thoughts seriously and knowing where to get help,” Marshall said.

But a show that shows scenes of suicide made available recently on Netflix has been criticised.

Newshub: Teen series under fire for graphic rape, suicide scenes

A new Netflix series that targets teens and features graphic scenes of suicide and rape is being accused of seriously putting youths at risk.

13 Reasons Why centres on the self-inflicted death of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who leaves behind 13 tapes – one for each of the people she says caused her to end her life.

It premiered a fortnight ago and has become the most widely shared streaming show on social media ever.

Critically, 13 Reasons Why has received generally favourable reviews, with a 76 rating on Metacritic.

But in New Zealand it has been criticised.

New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation is joining a chorus of experts around the world accusing the show for being potentially harmful.

“It’s actually quite an unethical programme and it’s really exploiting young people and their concerns, and trivialising topics around mental health and suicide,” chief executive Shaun Robinson told Radio NZ.

“I am very concerned about the very graphic and detailed portrayal of how Hannah takes her own life… I’m very concerned that this could seriously put young people’s lives at risk.”

The Spinoff had 17-year-old Kiwi Bree Brown write an article on her concerns about the show.

13 Reasons Why glorifies suicide and mental illness, and that’s a huge risk given what we know about the suicide contagion phenomenon. I hope that parents understand that while [it] is accurate in some respects… there’s a lot about it that is just wrong,” writes Ms Brown.

However it has prompted discussions – RNZ: Netflix show prompts parents to discuss suicide prevention

Parents, teachers and social workers have met to seek advice on how to deal with the topic of suicide following the release of controversial Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.

About 30 people gatherered at Glen Eden library in Auckland last night to hear about suicide prevention and talked about the impact of the series in which a teenage girl kills herself.

The event was organised by Live Talks, a group that meets once a month to discuss issues of the day.

Also from RNZ: Teen suicide series ‘resonating with young people’

13 Reasons Why, which went online two weeks ago worldwide, is about a teenager called Hannah Baker who commits suicide.

The Mental Health Foundation has described the programme as irresponsible, unsafe, and unethical, and said the show should never have been released because it was putting young people at risk.

Counsellors also said the show was putting vulnerable people who were struggling with suicidal thoughts at risk.

But Paul Stevens, a teacher at Albany Senior High School, told RNZ the programme was resonating with young people.

“Young people are already talking about these things. It’s something that’s already a real issue in New Zealand, and when you do have the highest rate of teen suicide in the OECD, and also deals with consent, and rape, and it’s really resonated with young people in New Zealand, I think.”

Mr Stevens said parents should watch the show alongside their children to make sure the young people have emotional support.

Trying to suppress news about suicides and discussions about suicides does not seem to have helped with awful rates of attempted and successful suicides in New Zealand, especially amongst young people.

Talking about suicide more openly may risk some prompting some people to consider or attempt suicide. But surely it being open and honest about the problem and the many issues around it must generally help address it.

‘A problem shared is a problem solved’ may not always work, but suffering in silence must leave people at greater risk.

With the Internet it’s impossible to stop access to items about suicide anyway.  Netflix makes it more easily accessible to more young New Zealanders,

But forcing discussion into the open must be better than sweeping suicide under the carpet and quietly burying over 500 New Zealanders a year, well over one a day on average.

Talking about it to someone you trust is an obvious option that should be encouraged. RNZ lists many other ways to get help.

Where to get help:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
  • Sparx online e-therapy tool for young people
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email
  • What’s Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children’s helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
  • Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
  • Healthline: 0800 611 116
  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
  • OUTline 0800 688 5463 (OUTLINE) provides confidential telephone support on sexuality or gender identity
  • If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111
Leave a comment


  1. A system of silence.

  2. Blazer

     /  21st April 2017

    talking about suicide means questioning …’our way of life’……a dozen or more people every week cannot see …’the brighter future’.Thats why it is hidden away.

  3. I had my say yesterday, and need add no more!

  4. Brown

     /  21st April 2017

    If you are for euthanasia why would you be bothered with this stat? Its just people exercising their choice after all.

    • Blazer

       /  21st April 2017

      that about sums up the right wing attitude.=Who cares?

    • Gezza

       /  21st April 2017

      Most suicides are probably by people suffering from clinical depression, bullying, financial bankruptcy or other treatable mental health issues.

      Big difference when compared to *assisted dying* for the terminally ill facing a painful and / or undignified death, Brown.

      Why would you be against assisted suicide in those cases?

      • Brown

         /  22nd April 2017

        Because the whole living and dying thing is, to me, a big, complicated deal. If, as a default position, I have to respect individual choice it gets complicated as to when I make choices not to. Joining a crowd that clusters around the latest virtue signal is not my style.

        Your trotting out nice clinical examples of when, in your view, assisted suicide is desirable doesn’t help me. Killing yourself for the benefit of someone else may be noble but doing it for yourself is harder to decide on. We routinely kill people in palliative care but killing them is not the goal – its a side effect. Maybe that’s where a safe line is drawn?

        Just so you are clear, my views are philosophical about choice and perceptions of individual value rather than religious. I have some intimate experience of suicidal efforts and had a peek into darkness around suicide. I think suicide needs to be discouraged because its so often a foolish response to a single issue that could have been dealt with and that thinking filters through to assisted suicide.

        • Gezza

           /  22nd April 2017

          Ok, I respect that viewpoint Brown. Personally I would want the choice to be assisted to die with dignity in the particular situation I am describing, but when the time came who knows? The last few hours of a 50 year old relative of mine who died just recently saw him dying in anguish & distress about leaving his young children. But they gave him 3 months, and because he loved his kids, he lasted 18 months, before they eased his exit.

  5. The subject is a very live issue in Otage as the ODT has reported. It sickens me because the report seems to be identical with the situation I have recorded the other day and ” … Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said anecdotally he was hearing more children with mental and behavioural issues were placed in inappropriate environments, due to a shortage of facilities. But that was an explanation, ‘‘not an excuse’’.

    ‘‘We’ve got to the stage where a small group of very behaviourally disturbed and challenging young people need much better facilities than we appear to have in New Zealand,’’ he said.
    ‘‘We need to face the issue and respond pretty quickly.’’

    If the (subject of the report) had made another suicide attempt, that emphasised how inadequate those short-term arrangements were, he said.

    ‘‘I have no illusions how demanding and tough it will be to provide that sort of expert care facility but nothing less than that is required in a civilised community.’’
    This is the story of a young male placed in a Hotel Room by himself while awaiting full assessment in a Mental Hospital. He had to medicate himself and is now back in hospital having overdosed on drugs. He was required to report to his social worker 3 times a day! My heart goes out to his mother.
    Come on Bill English we need to get our priorities right and ensure our most precious taonga, the children, have the treatment they need. It is election year!

  6. It is Otago of course, my apologies to the Mainland.

  7. Kitty Catkin

     /  21st April 2017

    I don’t isee that we are silent about suicide-I certainly see it discussed in the press often enough. ‘No suspicious circumstances’ could mean anything-accident. sudden death because of a medical condition…and if it’s suicide, it’s nobody else’s business. It’s nobody’s business if it’s a heart attack, either. Why would we need to hear that Joe Brown-whom we don’t know-has killed himself ? It’s bad enough for the family without this invasion of privacy. It seems to considered our right to see people being carried into ambulances and hear details of their murders-the ultimate invasion of privacy. I don’t think that it is.

    • Blazer

       /  21st April 2017

      you are forgetting about life insurance…suicide no payout…some very well insured people die by…’misadventure’.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  22nd April 2017

        Life insurance is not paid out for suicide within a certain period-usually 13 months (I thought that it was longer)

        I can see why, if there’s any doubt, a death would be classed as not being suicide. I know that when a Waikato farmer’s death was said to be suicide when it was almost certainly accidental as nobody would electrocute themselves, it caused a lot of extra distress to his family.

  1. Netflix stirs up suicide debate – NZ Conservative Coalition

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