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13 Reasons Why I Don’t Recommend “13 Reasons Why”

Keisha Colon, Editor

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Disclaimer and Editor’s Note: Before I say anything, I’m not saying 13 Reasons Why is something no one should watch. Everything opinion and point in this article has been formed from my own and friends’ experiences and thorough research about why I don’t recommend fellow students use it to learn about suicide.

13 Reasons Why is a popular Netflix series adaptation of the book by Jay Asher (written in 2007). The series tells the story of Hannah Baker and the preceding events that led up to her suicide. The tapes, given to her friend, were to be watched and then handed to the next person and so forth, which would continue on until the last person received them.

The series has been the center of a lot of attention lately, both positive and negative. Controversy swirls around it, and whether or not viewing it should be encouraged or used as a reason to talk about suicide. Recently, in the mainland, schools have been sending out letters to families about the series, and in the past week, Hawaii was just added to the list.

Honestly speaking, I’m always up to talk about the importance of suicide awareness. There’s about one suicide every forty seconds, and for every twenty people who attempt, one person finishes the deed. (Approximately, that’s one million people worldwide per year.) If there’s anything that 13 Reasons Why did right, it was breaking the silence. For a long time, there’s been an air of uncomfortable silence around the topic, because no one wants to talk about the deliberate act of taking one’s life or the pain and sorrow that comes with it.

Before I say anything, I’d like to make note of one thing: I have experience with suicide on a personal level, because I struggle with pressing suicidal thoughts on a frequent basis. I’ve landed myself in the hospital one summer between my sophomore and junior year, because I tried to overdose in the middle of a breakdown. I’ve suffered from long depressive lapses and have considered suicide on more than one occasion. If anything, I feel that I have enough personal experience to comment on 13 Reasons Why‘s narrative.

Anyway, here’s my take on the whole thing. Particularly why 13 Reasons Why shouldn’t be your basis for learning about suicide or why it happens:

  1. Hannah adamantly blames everyone in her life for the suicide, but in reality, she is the only one responsible for her suicide. It was her choice to make, no matter what. This is the first point I want to make, because frankly, this is one of the most important. Suicide is ultimately the person’s choice to make on their own. Those considering may think that suicide is their only option to escape in times of despair, but it’s not. No matter how clouded your mind becomes in those times, the choice was made by the person who committed the act. While the people in the show should be held accountable for their actions, the show shouldn’t lead viewers to think that there’s always going to be someone to point their fingers at in the case of suicide.
  2. Suicide is supposedly Hannah’s only option. I’ll say it again, but suicide is usually a last resort or the person has such a distorted mentality that it appears to be the only option, but it isn’t. The series gives the idea that Hannah has no other choices but to do this. This goes on to show viewers, especially those thinking about suicide, that there’s no getting better once you consider it, and that no matter how hard you work to feel better and recover, suicide will be the only way out.
  3. The series romanticizes the idea of suicide. In layman’s terms, romanticizing suicide makes it seem like killing yourself is a good thing to do or that it’s cool. More specifically, the best thing to do. She gains power through her suicide via guilt (see point 7), and that’s a horrible message to show, because someone who feels weak and inferior could strive after this. Added to this, viewers become enthralled by the drama surrounding Hannah’s suicide, rather than the suicide itself. The entire time, watchers are more excited to see what the next tape will reveal than for suicide to be seriously addressed.
  4. Mental health professionals don’t recommend anyone at risk for suicide watch the series. Young people are the easiest to manipulate. Because of the events, viewers may over-identify with Hannah and become attached to her and idealize her actions. People who are depressed or even occasionally considering suicide in particular may be led on to think that this is the best option for it, because suicide seems like the easy way out.
  5. The series can encourage young viewers to consider suicide or misinterpret their feelings. Continuing on the last point, because viewers—especially bullying victims—can (and will) connect with Hannah, they may be pushed to consider suicide. (I’ll avoid repeating my earlier point.) In addition, they may fail to accurately identify or misinterpret multiple things: their bad feelings as depression, their situation as inescapable, or even the signs of suicide contemplation in themselves or their friends.
  6. Doesn’t accurately portray what suicide victims experience leading up to the event, and it mentions nothing about mental illness. Mental illness and suicide have a relationship, and it’s hard to talk about one and not talk about the other. In up to 90% of cases, mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc.) played a huge role in someone taking their life. While the show openly talks about external causes,—bullying and more in Hannah’s case—there fails to be any mention of the main underlying cause for suicide, and how that plays a critical role in the event. Don’t forget that external causes are often the cause of someone suffering from mental illness, so it wouldn’t have been a long shot or very difficult to talk about mental illness.
  7. People considering suicide don’t want to hurt those around them, and definitely wouldn’t use it tool for revenge. When someone commits suicide, there’s this feeling of guilt survivors feel. Be it because they feel helpless, like they couldn’t do anything, or that they hadn’t done enough, it’ll always be there when someone outlives a suicide victim. It’s a condemning feeling (and Clay is the biggest victim of this in the series for having never stepped in). As for the revenge part, Hannah’s suicide and tapes leave a bitter taste in my mouth because she used her death as a means for exacting revenge on the people around her. She wanted them to feel bad, which is the exact opposite many people thinking about suicide want. One of the main reasons many people don’t want to commit suicide is because they don’t want to hurt those around them. In the end, Hannah uses these tapes to have power over the people around her, even after death.
  8. The idea of Hannah leaving behind witty and sarcastic tapes is unrealistic, and it completely misses the point about what it’s like trying to kill yourself. To be blunt, it’s impracticable for someone who has been pushed to wit’s end and is seriously considering offing themselves to record a series of tapes. Especially when she’s maintaining her personality and making smart remarks the entire time. In the hours, if even that many, leading up to one’s suicide, there’s a heavy feeling of emptiness. This time is usually spent crying and staring at nothing, because it feels like there’s nothing left.
  9. Fear and sadness is the final feeling that 13 Reasons Why leaves behind, and that’s not a good thing. This will probably be the hardest point to explain, but the series instills this feeling of hopelessness and fear that there’s nothing possible to make things better. When talking about a topic as complicated and dark as this, 13 Reasons Why shows the pain that comes after someone’s suicide, but it never gets better. There’s no visual or storytelling evidence that someone can recover from considering suicide and mental illness, and that’s a terrible thing.
  10. Viewers can be discouraged from seeking help. The people in Hannah’s life are shown to be incredibly unhelpful, which causes viewers to be scared to seek assistance from friends, family, or professionals. This is terrible, because of the next point.
  11. Love isn’t a cure for depression, and those considering need serious help. While “be kind” isn’t a bad message to have in media, 13 Reasons Why does suicide an injustice with this. Sure, being nice to those around you could go a long way, but being nice or reciprocating a crush or anything like that isn’t just going to “fix” someone, especially if they’re suffering from mental illness and considering suicide. Don’t get me wrong, because love can go a long way in helping someone on the road to recovery, but it isn’t just a miraculous solution to depression. Anyone who is suffering from mental illness needs to seek help, because that is the most effective way to recovery. Therefore, people should be encouraged to seek help and continue to do so.
  12. It portrays rape, sexual assault, self-harm, and suicide, yet offers no solution to those who are experiencing any of these things. It’s not uncommon for media to cover serious issues to raise awareness, but said media usually includes resources to contact for help. 13 Reasons Why fails to do so, even though it includes graphic imagery and actively covers pressing issues. One reason behind why it’s especially critical for media discussing suicide to include resources is because of an idea called “suicide contagion,” where one suicide often leads to more. (There’s an example of this in the series.) With the graphic portrayal of suicide, it could lead to more, and the series makes no effort to stop this.
  13. The visuals are traumatizing. There are graphic portrayals of rape, sexual assault, bullying, and ultimately, the show ends with a graphic portrayal of Hannah’s suicide. Not only can these be triggering, it puts at-risk people in danger, because statistics show that graphic portrayal of method and act, as well as glamorization, increase the likelihood of someone committing the act.
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13 Reasons Why I Don’t Recommend “13 Reasons Why”