Published on August 3rd, 2017 | from CAMH
There may be more than 13 Reasons Why
*Disclaimer: The following blog discusses sensitive subject matter from the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The discussion contains spoilers and is solely based on the author’s opinion.*
By Jennifer La Grassa, Research Placement Student, Youth Concurrent Disorders
What drives a seemingly well-adjusted, well-liked teenager to take her own life? It’s a question that comes up every time a tragedy like this occurs, and one that is explored in the controversial Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.
Hannah Baker is a teenage girl who dies by suicide after being the victim of cyberbullying, sexual assault, voyeurism, and rape. Prior to her death, Hannah records 13 cassette tapes—one for each of her offenders—where she explains the events that led to her suicide.
The show generated a lot of conversation online, and recent estimates has it as the most tweeted TV show in 2017. In fact, it’s still generating buzz online, this time due to a poorly conceived Tweet about one of the relationships in the show.
Critics argue that the show is insensitive to vulnerable viewers and may be triggering for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. Scenes containing rape and suicide are especially difficult to watch, and would be for many viewers, regardless of the show’s TV-MA rating.
Considering how overwhelming the content can be, warnings were presented before certain episodes, and a link to a companion website with mental health information was included at the onset of some of these episodes. However, in my opinion, a mental health helpline should have been listed prior to the show’s ending credits as well. For a show that is likely to attract a younger audience, there’s a responsibility to protect their viewers — failing to do so was their biggest fault.
13 Reasons Why – welcome to your review
Though it’s emotionally taxing to watch Hannah and her peers experience bullying, rape, and death, these scenes emphasize the harsh reality of these issues. The show made sure to focus on characters of differing social status, race, and sexual orientation, enabling viewers to relate to the content or become more aware of the struggles that others encounter.
One of the main critiques about the show is its handling of suicide, popularizing the notion of “revenge suicide”, and in general, just glamorizing the act. Shortly after the show was released on Netflix, two teenage girls died by suicide, and the show is being blamed for inspiring their decision. I can’t begin to comprehend the tragic despair these families are feeling, or the distress these girls may have felt, and can only think of how the show could have better discouraged someone from taking their own life.
While the show’s main plotline and much of the criticism it receives revolves around suicide, I’d argue that other important issues aren’t receiving the same amount of attention from the media: themes such as consent, unhealthy relationships, underage drinking, drug addiction, social media use and the consequences of bullying. Rather than banning the content of the show, school boards should consider it as an opportunity to educate older youth and their parents on these topics. Preparing students through an open discussion of these issues is a lot better than sheltering them. I’d argue that what brought Hannah to die by suicide deserves a deeper analysis—one that considers her mental state, the right to expose those who wronged her, and how ill-equipped others were to provide help.
Regardless of how you feel about the show’s main theme, there are lessons to be learned about youth culture. Suicide accounts for 24 per cent of deaths among youth, and 13 Reasons Why has started a conversation by providing a glimpse at the struggle that Canadian youth have experienced. Suicide is never the solution, but for some it can seem like the only way out. Individuals who are depressed or contemplating suicide may never reach out for support, but they’ll likely show signs of despair. Becoming more aware of these signs and the impact of our own actions can spare a life.
Should a child express interest in the show, I advise parents to join them and supplement each episode with a discussion of the events that occurred. Adults should watch the series to educate themselves on the challenges their child may encounter, gain an understanding of what life is like for youth in the modern day, and realize their role in identifying struggling youth. Adolescence is a sensitive period where individuals are susceptible to the onset of 75% of all lifetime mental disorders, particularly depression or anxiety. While youth may not be able to recognize the signs in themselves, having others take notice can allow for earlier intervention.
With a second season of 13 Reasons Why on the way, it is essential that the show’s creators take viewer feedback into consideration and demonstrate more appropriate measures for individuals in similar situations. The most important message that should come from the series is that you never know how your actions may affect another individual – they can make a good day better or a bad day worse.
It shouldn’t take 13 reasons to be reminded of one simple concept: Be kind and thoughtful.