By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of one of Netflix’s latest originals, “13 Reasons Why.”
The series originated from Jay Asher’s Young Adult novel, about a high school girl who commits suicide and creates tape recordings listing thirteen reasons why she did it. These tapes are circulated between different involved high schoolers after her death.
I never read the book in high school like many of my friends did. I remember eyeing it in the school library but opting for other books, like Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (currently a motion picture). The books are similar in nature, in that the protagonist dies in the beginning. But, one of course is accidental and the other suicidal. I think that growing up, and dealing with occasional depression and anxiety, books about suicide really just weren’t my thing. Kinda triggering don’t ya think?
Which leads me into the topic of today’s post.
I can think of about thirteen reasons why I can’t finish watching “13 Reasons Why.”
It hits way too close to home
As someone who has lost two friends to suicide and dealt with the aftermath, this series really put a bad taste in my mouth. When someone you know and care about takes their own life you start to feel guilty, you don’t really need tapes to make you feel that way. I know that when I lost one friend in particular, I asked myself if I could’ve done something to stop her from making that final decision. The reality of the situation is, regardless of what you did or didn’t do, it isn’t your fault. That person made that decision themselves, and are fully responsible.
The suicide is shown in full on-screen
I didn’t get to this scene (thank goodness). I got as far as Clay spiraling into depression and self-destructive behavior before I had to stop watching the show. There’s been a lot of drama surrounding the suicide scene and while the producers stand-by their decision to include it in the series, a lot of media outlets and psychological societies have issued statements that go against their decision. This begs the question: is it harmful or helpful? While the producers argue that including the scene really drives the message home and raises suicide awareness, many people feel like the scene could trigger those with suicidal ideation and cause more damage than help.
Rape is shown in full on-screen
As a survivor of sexual assault, I can tell you right now that watching the two graphic scenes in the series would’ve led to nights of little-to-no sleep, flashbacks, intense anxiety, and a major depressive episode. While a warning is displayed at the beginning of the episode that lets viewers know of the scenes, the argument exists that not everyone may realize they can’t handle that kind of content until it is too late.
SO MANY TRIGGERS
The series is a goldmine of triggers; from the self-harm to the rape and suicide, and everything else in-between. As I mentioned previously, I only got as far as episode seven before I realized that watching the show was going to negatively affect my mental health. I have dealt with manageable anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember, anxiety especially. Watching the characters deal with their mental illnesses in such intense and dramatic ways really started to get to me. I realized that I was pushing myself to finish the series and I was barely halfway through, already dealing with the consequences.
Mental health isn’t really discussed
I still find it completely ironic that although the overall message of the series is to make others aware of social issues that negatively impact mental health and can lead to suicide, mental health isn’t really discussed. Sure, there’s a school counselor that seems to want to help but he never really talks about why he wants to, or how he expects these other children to be affected by Hannah’s death. There’s a meeting about bullying, but not about how bullying can affect mental health. Words like “depression” and “suicidal ideation” aren’t really used, just implied.
Everything seems to be everyone else’s fault
I touched on this earlier. In the series Hannah leaves behind these tapes that seem to place the blame on everyone but herself. This is really damaging to not only the mental health of others, but also really selfish. It’d be one thing if the tapes had discussed the events that’d driven her to suicide, but instead they more-or-less taunt the individuals involved. And, as I said before, in the end the person that chose to take their life made that decision themselves. They are fully responsible for making that final decision.
Suicide is almost glorified or “game-like”
This is a big topic that media outlets everywhere have been going absolutely crazy about. The series takes a tragedy like suicide, and makes it seem interesting and playful by adding this element of passing tapes around and leaving clues for people to follow. While this isn’t the fault of the producers of the show (it was in the novel), it’s still something to pay attention to. Suicide isn’t funny, it isn’t a game, and it doesn’t need to be glorified. It is a very serious matter.
Parental un-involvement is normalized
Literally everyone’s parents are oblivious. Clay’s mother tries to be involved and tries to understand what’s going on with Clay, but that’s really the only exception. Hannah’s parents try to make sense of everything after her death, but it doesn’t seem like they had any idea what Hannah was going through before she decided to end her life. Justin’s parents are practically non-existent. Where even are Bryce’s parents? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. While I must admit that not every family is perfect (I know mine isn’t), most parents try to be there for their children to some degree. They may not know exactly what is going on with their kids, but they try to be a part of their lives and understand their wants and needs for the most part.
Bullying is normalized
Bullying is real. It happens in various settings all around the world. But in this series it’s like the only thing happening. When I was in high school people were being bullied, and in some cases I knew those people and saw first-hand how it affected them. However, high school was so much more than that. It wasn’t like I walked down the hall and saw kids getting slammed into lockers, got passed sexist and foul notes in class, or got sent group texts of classmates in their underwear. That stuff just doesn’t happen, at least not as often and concentrated as the series makes it seem.
Being “popular” is weighed on heavily
While cliques are a big thing in high school, they aren’t the only things. The series made it seem like the only way to have friends and be happy was to be popular. Look at the nerdy photographer, Tyler. Even after being included in this nightmare of a situation, with all the jocks and cheerleaders, he was still seen as the outcast nerd with no friends. High school isn’t like that. Everyone has a place and purpose. I was in band in high school, but I had jock friends too. The friendship possibilities are endless.
Suicide is narrowly portrayed as the only answer
This goes along with mental health not really being discussed. Where in the show did they mention that suicide isn’t the only answer? I must have missed that. Well in case someone out there reading this really needs to hear it, suicide isn’t the only answer. Suicide really isn’t even an answer. It is a permanent “solution” to temporary problems. If you or someone that you know is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Suicide prevention might be mentioned but it isn’t taught
In the show it seems like Hannah’s suicide was a complete surprise. However, in most cases there are signs. For example, a friend of mine that ended her life a few years ago had attempted suicide before. She had even been hospitalized for suicidal ideation. She kept a blog of poetry and photography, you can see it here. Even in her art you can tell something was going on beneath the surface. Be watchful of the warning signs, and don’t be afraid to intervene if you think it’s necessary. Sometimes people find it hard to seek help on their own, so guide them if they’ll let you. For more information on suicide prevention, check out the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The school is “bad”
On the topic of help, you can usually find it in your school. In the series the school is made out to be the bad guys, with the two-faced principal and the guidance counselor that wants to be helpful but somehow can’t get through to the students. Most schools have counselors on-staff that are available throughout the day. If you’re not sure that your school provides one, don’t be afraid to ask. If you need someone to talk to and you’re close to a teacher or coach, tell them! Don’t be afraid to open up and let someone know what is going on with you or someone that you care about. It could mean saving a life.
Now, all that being said, I don’t think that the show is necessarily a “bad” show. If you can stomach “13 Reasons Why,” by all means go for it! But take this post as a warning, it isn’t for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for me.