I think I’m sharing a pretty unpopular opinion here but please hear me out!
Unless you’ve been living under the rock for the last couple of weeks I’m sure you’ll have heard of a little show called ’13 Reasons Why.’ It was released on the 31st of March and it seems to have really taken off. Everyone’s talking about it and it seems like everyone but me has watched it. For those that have watched it, I am in no way attacking you for doing so, everyone is entitled to their opinions and the views in this post do not detract from the fact that it is a very well made and thought provoking show that thousands of people have enjoyed. My aim is to simply make people aware of some potential issues and help you understand my concerns.
For those that haven’t read or seen the show, the (very) brief synopsis from Wikipedia reads:
“Clay Jensen, a shy high school student, returns home from school one day to find that he has received a mysterious package in the mail. It contains seven double-sided cassette tapes used by Hannah Baker, a classmate who has recently committed suicide. Each tape details a reason that she killed herself.”
Now I read the book years ago and, to tell you the truth, I hated it. It felt like the author had googled a list of reasons as to why someone could kill themselves and just thought ‘Yes I’ll have that, that, that…you know what, I’ll just throw them all in.” I also found Hannah to be a very hypocritical and unlikable character. We find out hardly anything about her home life and family and she’s a very flimsy and superficial character.
I’m not here to just bash the book however! I want to talk about something more serious I’m very concerned about the potential effects of this show – people are watching it and thinking they understand what causes people to commit suicide. In the show Hannah experiences sexual assault, rape and bullying – all serious incidents that could be factors that contribute to the development of depression but not once is that word mentioned in the series. The show deals with some very serious issues and I’m not trying to undermine that whatsoever but they are not direct causes of suicide. I understand that not everyone that takes their own life has a mental illness but the vast majority (around 90%) do. Hannah Baker has some horrible things happen to her but she is not portrayed as mentally ill. Victims of bullying and rape etc can develop depression, PTSD or other mental illness’ for that matter that can later cause someone to take their own life but they are not stand alone reasons.
Personally, I feel that it sends the wrong message to people that have had similar things happen to them – it could make them think that suicide is the ‘right thing to do’ or that it’s their only option and this is really not the case. In the show/book no support networks or help is offered to Hannah or even suggested. When she does ask for help from the school guidance counselor she’s basically told to ‘move on’ and that there’s no support she could be given. In real life this is not the case at all. If someone has even suggested that they might be feeling suicidal then health professionals and people in authority would be alerted and action would be taken. Depending on the severity of the situation they could be taken to A and E, offered emergency counselling or so many other forms of help. If you want and need help, then it’s out there for you, it doesn’t have to end so badly. It could also make people think that killing themselves is the only way to get their voices heard and it’s really not. You have so many platforms on which to get your voice heard and so many people out there just waiting to listen – if you have something to say then there’s a place for you.
In addition to this I think the show over simplifies suicide. There’s not always someone (or 12 people) to blame and I think encouraging this idea is dangerous. What if the millions of people that have watched the show start to point fingers for people who have previously taken their lives and future suicides for that matter? My friend that took her own life back in 2015, was she bullied or assaulted? Are there any people responsible for her death? No, she suffered for years with horrible, destructive mental health conditions that took over and made her feel like it was too hard to continue living. As a suicide survivor myself I find the show almost an insult to my struggles. It’s not black and white and most of the time there are no perpetrators to someone taking their own life. If I had died then I would not want anyone to feel to blame. People would, they always do, there are always if’s and but’s (What if I’d done this or hadn’t done this? But what didn’t I do? etc. ) but no human would have been to blame. Mental illness’ would have been to blame, but not people.
I’m also incredibly concerned with the possible effects the show could be having on impressionable young people. I think the media should portray mental illness’ more often but only accurate versions and for positive reasons such as raising awareness, not just for entertainment. You can raise awareness within entertainment but I don’t believe 13 Reasons Why does that they way people think it does. I think it trivialises and almost romanticises suicide and mental illness and it’s not okay.
In addition to this, Hannah Baker’s actual suicide is portrayed in a very graphic manner, which, aside from being triggering to those that are struggling, is particularly dangerous for young impressionable people. While we shouldn’t (and can’t) be shielded from things completely, I think that there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Showing Hannah’s actual death in such a way could create and encourage issues such as copycat suicides and make people who hadn’t previously thought of it start to self harm or even worse.
I’m also not entirely sure what the intended message of the show is. If it was to make victims of sexual assault or bullying feel like they’re not alone then surely it’s not ideal to have your poster girl for this kill herself? Does this not encourage the idea that suicide is the only option under such circumstances? At the bottom of the page are some links for people that have suffered in the aforementioned ways to help you see that you/they are not alone and that there is an abundance of help out there.
If the message is to look out for one another and to discourage people from bullying, is it not dangerous to have one of the people apportioned blame for Hannah’s death also become suicidal? Does this not then create a viscous cycle of blame and suicidality?
If anyone reading this has experienced/is experiencing suicidal thoughts then please do tell someone. You won’t be automatically locked up or anything drastic like that, one in four people experience such thoughts in their lifetimes, you are truly not alone. The world can seem like a scary place at times but there is so much beauty and positivity out there if you just know where to look. You deserve happiness and these negative emotions won’t last – the tunnel may seem long and dark but the light is there (promise). You have many, many good times ahead of you, please keep fighting, I know you’ll get there.
Thank you for reading,
Air hugs and happy thoughts for all,
Help for anyone that is/has been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post/the ’13 Reasons Why’ story:
You can also go to your GP, talk to family, friends, teachers etc.
Some of my previous posts that may help:
- https://itsannazoe.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/eating-disorder-awareness-week-day-4/ (a list of distraction techniques for bad days/moments/feelings)
- https://itsannazoe.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/dear-you-the-one-who-thinks-you-wont-be-missed/ (an open letter to anyone feeling suicidal, like life isn’t worth living or like the world would be better off without you)
- https://itsannazoe.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/world-suicide-prevention-day (Some more resources and signs someone may be thinking about suicide)