13 Reasons Why has become a small Netflix phenomenon resulting in memes flying everywhere. Even if you haven’t watched it I bet you have seen the “This is your tape…” memes on your Facebook.
I personally have mixed feelings when it comes 13 Reasons. As a person who has suffered from depression and suicidal urges their whole life, I feel like if I didn’t put in my input on it then the whole point of the show becomes useless. I just wanted to wait for my head to get straight before I did. Honestly, I had to stop multiple times watching the show as well as when I write this because it’s difficult for me.
The show itself is based off of the book 13 Reasons Why written by Jay Asher, and can actually be found in the Teen Fiction section of your local bookstore. The show and the story take place in the aftermath of a teen girl, Hannah, committing suicide and left behind a series of tapes about her “reasons” for doing it. The tapes are then given to each person on them to be listened to. Once they have completed the tapes, they pass it on to the next person. We follow Clay as he goes through his turn of listening to the tapes and what he goes through with them. All during this, Hannah’s parents are in the midst of suing the high school. The season ends with Hannah’s parents having the tapes and the teens on them are beginning the testimonies.
It’s The Little Things
There are a couple of things that I feel like people missed when watching the show:
- The time stamp on the video testimonies are for a future date in our time and gives us a possibility that Hannah hasn’t killed herself yet. It shows us that the events in the show didn’t have to happen.
- For a small moment, during one of the times it shows Hannah’s parents fighting, they mention that Hannah has dealt with bullying before in her previous school and that it was one of the reasons why they moved. It’s mentioned one time and then never referred to again so if you don’t pay attention, you miss it.
Both of these moments give us the thought that none of these event’s had to happen at all, but also gives us a bit of a fatalistic view of things. If Hannah stayed at her old school, she may have still gone down this same path because of how everything was handled.
What They Got Right
After giving it a lot of thought there were a couple things I feel like they approached correctly, but also a lot of moments where they got the show completely wrong.
What they did get right only involved Hannah and her actions. For one, how she acts around her parents even to the last day. She acts like everything is fine and there is nothing bad going on in front of them, even though she is absolutely falling apart. Some sufferers of depression create a mask of being okay in front of family members because they feel shame for their depression, or can feel like they would be a burden to them. This can especially be from the fact that Hannah knows that one of the reasons they moved was because of her and they are so worried about the store she doesn’t want to add one more thing to their worries.
Secondly, through the tapes Hannah is essentially blaming these people for her depression and suicidal thoughts. In some stages of depression, it can be shown that a person will have this “It’s your fault that I’m like this.” view point. They can be dealing with the anger and frustration as well as feeling of they aren’t in control.
Where They Went Wrong
I feel like they got a lot of things wrong that can actually become damaging to people, particularly teens, who are dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts in a way that might prevent them from going to get help. What they did wrong in the show is where I almost felt like rage quitting. These things can be really damaging for people watching the show who suffer from mental illness, or are family members of those who are.
The biggest problem I had, was how they portrayed as going to get help as useless. The counselor and his actions when Hannah comes to his office are troubling. Schools just like other workplaces have a cell phone policy when it comes to their staff, normally cell phones are not to be used during school hours unless it is an actual emergency. The fact that he brought his phone out during a session with a student could get him in a lot of trouble. On top of that how he handled Hannah’s conversation with him, was bothersome. He was too distracted to listen to her and instead of trying to dig deeper and try to help her he blows her off and tells her to get over it. Hannah is obviously telling him that something is wrong and giving him signs that she might hurt herself, and in most states he would be obligated by school policy to notify the authorities if she mentioned such things, but the fact that he didn’t pay attention was troublesome.
With her parents they didn’t try to encourage her to go to therapy after dealing with the bullying before but instead think that just getting away is enough. Clay’s parents also referenced that he has gone to therapy before, but after he is showing warning signs that they notice, they don’t push him much to go back. They just say “We need to do this together” or “Do you need us to call your therapist” but don’t really make an effort outside of that to get him to go.
How Skye portrays self-harm is a stereotype that has been circulating around for a while. The thought that self-harm is better than killing yourself because committing suicide is for cowards. This can create the idea that self-harm is okay when it really isn’t. I did appreciate that they showed multiple forms of self-harm, including alcohol abuse, more than just cutting yourself, but the moment that they did show it it comes to perpetuate a stereotype. They had an opportunity to address it but they didn’t.
Finally, the part that bothered me the most, Hannah’s suicide. Part of the reason why I had such a hard time watching this is that it made me relive the times I have tried to kill myself. There were a couple of times where during the scene I had to pause and walk away for a moment. When I did finally feel up to watching it all the way through I looked at the details of how she did it. She chose to be in old clothes, filled the bathtub, then slit her wrists. That seems like a lot of thought into something she says she just decided to do. Something that I see that they missed is when she cutting into herself, there could have been a moment where she kind of had a clarity. I can’t say that many people who have fully committed suicide have had this moment, but many people who have attempted that I have talked to did experience it. A moment of “Oh shit” and fear setting in. Why did we feel this? Because death is terrifying even to those who think they are ready. By doing the scene without that moment in the show created a dramatic and almost romanticized veil over Hannah’s death.
This is not even mentioning the fact that how Hannah’s death is portrayed along with the tapes as a suicide with the intent on revenge and not that someone needed help and we didn’t pay attention. In a way this blows out the validity of Hannah being shown to have mental health problems. It instead shows it in a way of, “I’m telling everyone your secrets and I can’t face the consequences if I’m dead.” as well as, “You killed me.” and not “I decided to do this because I felt like it was my only option.”
In my final opinion on this, though Selena Gomez is a self-proclaimed mental health advocate, I feel like she as well as everyone involved very much missed the mark on this show. I understand the fact that it is meant to be a conversation starter and it has achieved as that, but the valid points that many people from mental health sufferers to mental health professionals have against the show have been frequently blown off by the people involved with the show. They had a major opportunity to change the narrative of how mental health is addressed in the media and they failed, horribly. They could have had the chance to bring the topic of how teens are often shown to go through multiple phases of depression without showing signs and that there are ways to get help. They could have taken the time to show having a mental health professional in school is important to help the students. Hell, they could have said that helplines need more funding to encourage others to call and be able to handle the load. Instead they added a little 40 minute commentary as a completely separate thing on Netflix about how this was Selena’s sort of pet project.
I hope that if you have lasted long enough to read through this post, that if you suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, or other mental health conditions that you know you are not alone in your struggle even if you feel that way. Getting help isn’t easy but it is important. Reach out to family, friends, or even your doctor. If you feel like that isn’t an option there are hundreds of help lines of strangers with their whole job is to listen to you and help you. Feeling this way doesn’t make you less. Just because you feel broken doesn’t mean you can’t mend.
And for people who have family members that are going through this, pay more attention and listen to them. Help them get help, and get informed. Their are multiple books on depression, as well as informative websites. Take a step with them and let them know that their problems are valid. Continue to encourage that they receive professional help.
And don’t forget. I love you.