(Warning: This article contains show spoilers, graphic details of a suicide scene and descriptions of self-harm which may be triggering for some readers.)
In the final episode of Netflix's controversial teen hit 13 Reasons Why, we see a flashback of the show's dead protagonist Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) slitting her wrists in wrenching detail. The much talked about suicide scene is startlingly graphic, and while its creators call the explicit violence necessary, critics say it glamorizes suicide and can trigger those who struggle with suicidal thoughts.
But there's a barely talked about scene in the series that also shows a character who cuts her wrists, and in this case experts emphatically agree that it gets something very right about the behavior it depicts. The show's living protagonist, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), is arguing about Hannah's suicide with former friend Skye Miller (Sosie Bacon) when he sees what look like relatively fresh wounds at the edge of her sleeve.
"It's what you do instead of killing yourself," she explains.
Cutting is a form of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), defined as the deliberate, self-inflicted destruction of body tissue, which experts say people often do to discharge painful emotions. The behavior has been around for nearly all of recorded history, though it remained a poorly understood phenomenon until a few decades ago. Other types of self-injury include burning, carving, picking at the skin, hitting and bone-breaking. Since self-harm is largely a hidden behavior, it's hard to gauge how prevalent it is, though Cornell University's Program on Self-Injury and Recovery says U.S. studies find self-injury ranges from 12% to 37% in adolescents and 12% to 20% in young adult populations, with cutting as the most common form. Skye's comments are accurate, experts say, because while cutting can look like a suicidal gesture, it's actually an anti-suicidal move.
"Suicide is what you do to end your life," said Lori Hilt, a psychology professor at Lawrence University in Wisconsin and an expert on nonsuicidal self-injury. "This is something you do to cope with it."