Teen suicide show 13 Reasons Why defended as outcry rages

Mental health campaigner and comedian Mike King is defending a controversial teen series which is under fire by mental health experts, saying it's a life-saving tool.

Netflix's 13 Reasons Why is about a teenage girl's suicide - which is depicted explicitly - and also involves graphic rape scenes, despite being targeted at a teen audience.

The streaming service hasn't been legally obliged to submit its content for censorship classification in New Zealand, but following an outcry, the Office of Film & Literature Classification will now require it to do so.

King, however, believes teens should watch the series. He told The AM Show it would help with the "societal attitudinal change" around mental health that is needed.

"Shaun Robinson of the Mental Health Foundation criticised yesterday 13 Reasons Why, saying it was outrageous and glorifying suicide. He hasn't even watched the show," says King.

"I think it's one of the best suicide prevention tools out there. It's showing young and old people the effects our judgmental attitude is having on others. Bullying behaviour is having a huge effect on vulnerable New Zealanders and we need more education along those lines."

King says it's "fair" to be worried about copycat danger with a scene showing graphic, explicit suicide; but to focus on those three minutes and ignore the 12 hours of messaging around societal attitudes is "kind of missing the point", he adds.

"[The response to the series] shows the growing void between generations. My generation, when they see a show like this - it's about teen suicide. But my daughter's generation see it as a show about the attitudes of society and why they need to change," says King.

His 15-year-old daughter Ruby says she enjoyed the series, calling it "honest".

"I related to it more than I've related to any other TV show out there," she says.

"It shows what life as a teenager is like... because of the added pressure of social media and how it all affects you and the people around you."

New Zealand has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD and Youthline says now 13 Reasons Why has been seen by so many, we may as well talk about it openly.

"This is an opportunity for us to talk about it at a family level, at a community level and a school level," says Youthline CEO Stephen Bell.

13 Reasons Why is available to view in New Zealand now for Netflix subscribers.

Where to get help:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234, or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754