Since 13 Reasons Why was released on Netflix at the end of March, there have been many… mixed reviews to say the least. Originally, when I first heard the announcement that the 2007 book by Jay Asher was coming to life, I was super excited to watch the series. I read the book when I was perhaps 12 or 13 and it resonated with me for a long time, particularly through my own battle with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts as a teenager. After some thinking, though, and recalling my own mental health, I had to take my time to decide whether this show would be appropriate for me to watch and, my god, I wish I’d have listened to the scepticism within.
For anyone who hasn’t yet seen the show that racked up over 13.5 million social volume impressions in its first week of being on Netflix alone, 13 Reasons Why covers subjects such as bullying, cyberbullying, sexual assault, violence, self-injury and ultimately, suicide. The first reviews I saw for the show were glowing, singing the show’s praises for bringing up these topics and making them accessible. So I made the mistake (?) to bite the bullet and watch it.
Here, I’ll give you all an idea about how I felt about the show, described by a series of tweets…
Okay, so if you’ve made it this far, and you haven’t seen the show, congrats. You probably want to know what it’s about, right?
Hannah Baker, a 17-year-old high school student, kills herself. Before doing so, she leaves a note in the form of 13 tapes (so retro) that have to be passed from person to person. This is because each tape is aimed at someone new, and each person is a “reason” for her death. The TV show itself follows Clay Jensen, a fellow student, the semi-romantic interest of Hannah and all-round cutie pie (I can’t deny that!) as he listens to the tapes because, spoiler alert, he’s on them.
The premise is intriguing, so it’s no surprise that it’s been a huge hit and has been received by people of all ages – heck, even my mum watched it before me! It’s problematic as heck though, so let me reiterate a few points from those tweets…
90% of people who take their own life were experiencing some kind of mental illness. So why is it that Hannah Baker is never once considered to have been depressed? Why did no one consider her rape a trigger for PTSD that let to the end of her life? Why is the topic of mental illness completely ignored in a show about suicide?!
Hannah Baker’s tapes are vindictive and cruel, and no one acknowledges this. At the end of the day, it is Hannah who takes her own life. She seems to be extremely reluctant to admit this though, as is everyone else, and thus it becomes the fault of a number of other people. Alright, Hannah, we get it, Jessica slapped you once and you were torn up over a guy she dated but that does not mean that she is responsible for your death. She poor girl was also a victim of sexual assault and a handful of shitty relationships – how do you think having your death on her shoulders helps her? Could you not have found solidarity together?
Supposedly, every suicide deeply affects six people around the victim, and it has been proven that other suicides can be triggered purely by suggestion. Why then, are Clay and Alex’s suicidal thoughts and attempts brushed under the carpet? Why does the show only care about Hannah’s life and death? And more importantly, why did the producers think that graphically showing a suicide that appears to be very easy and very calm would be a good way to portray such a life ruining (literally) issue?! Why is the audience subjected to being triggered by suggestion?!
Oh boy, I have such feelings about this show, and they aren’t ‘omg fangirling’ feelings at all. I’m really glad that people are talking about how they should be treating one another and that people are starting to think about the impact and seriousness of suicide, but I can’t help but think that this representation might only encourage vulnerable people to recreate their own thirteen reasons. Will we be seeing articles next about someone who did their own Hannah Baker? Only time will tell, but if we do, I’ll be heartbroken. And Angry. So angry.
If this show has effected you in any way, or if even thinking about it upsets you, please reach out for help. It’s never too late, and suicide is not the answer. Mental illness can be treated. Visit http://www.samaritans.org/, or simply talk to a trusted friend, family member or GP.