13 Reasons Why

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


If you have a pulse and an internet connection, then you've probably heard of "13 Reasons Why". Spoiler alert: It's about a girl who died by suicide after... a bunch of stuff happens. And she leaves a bunch of cassette tapes (who even has those anymore?), detailing how each person in her life contributed to her death. It was a book before it was a series directed by Selena Gomez. Apparently, it's pretty popular and addictive. I watched it. Well, most of it. I watched the first 9 episodes and then skipped to the end and watched pieces of the last episode. I'll tell you why.

You shouldn't watch it. No one should. Here are a few reasons (not thirteen, because who needs that many?) you shouldn't watch 13 Reasons Why. And, uh, spoiler alert, I guess.

No one is responsible for anyone's suicide.

Period. End of story. Suicide is a horrible cause of death, often following a protracted battle with depression or other mental illness. The people left after the suicide always, always, always, need to know why. They want a reason why their loved one chose to end their life. They want to know if there was anything they could have done. Or if they did something to cause it. The rest of their lives, some of these people will probably blame themselves in one way or another. The last thing we need is for mainstream media to purport the idea that one or many people can cause someone to kill themselves. Or perhaps more dangerously, the idea that if we're all just really kind to one another and we just love one another better that we can prevent suicide. Depression that ends in suicide cannot be prevented by simple kindness. Full stop.

Getting help is essentially not discussed.

The only time Hannah Baker tries to access the mental health system, it is through her guidance counselor at school, which turns into an unmitigated disaster. She can't and won't tell him who assaulted her, and without that information, he glibly says that she other option is to "move on". She leaves the office in a huff, saying that she "needs to get over it", finishes recording her 13th tape, and then goes home to kill herself. Not once was this girl referred to any kind of actual health professional. Despite the fact that she displayed multiple signs of needing help, including saying things like she wanted life to stop and that she thought she was a burden, her school performance dropping, withdrawing from friendships, feeling worthless, and withdrawing from hobbies and activities. No one hauled that girl into a doctor's office, no one sat her down and made her talk. No one tried to find out why she was in so much pain. No one. There are so many options. 1-800-CONTACT and 1-800-273-8255 are both 24 hour hotlines that anyone can call and talk to a real human about something going on in their lives. You can call 911. Your job probably has an Employee Assistance Program. Your college has a counseling center. Hell, leave me a comment here and I will personally help you find someone to talk to. You are not alone. 

It glorifies and glamorizes suicide.

When someone dies by suicide, there are things that you and others SHOULD. NOT. DO. One of those things is don't glamorize or sensationalize the suicide. This entire show violates this and makes it the centerpiece of many classroom discussions. Furthermore, in death, Hannah Baker received everything she hoped would happen when people listened to her tapes: sympathy, anger, regret, guilt, and lastly, most importantly, love. She was vindicated in these tapes. People realized how awful they had been to her, they all felt bad, things HAPPENED. Will things change? Probably not, because people, teenagers especially, are terrible. But in the show, Clay Jensen decides to be nice to that weird girl, and her parents get closure (???), and there's a court case in process. (Sure, there's also that lingering, terrifying, idea that there's a kid planning a school shooting, and that yet another kid has tried to die by suicide, but let's leave that for the moment.) Overall, the entire thing is just handled incorrectly, and really the exact opposite of how any suicide death should be handled.

The suicide scene is gratuitous.

It reads like a how-to on slitting your wrists. Not only does it depict the entirety of the act, it does so gruesomely and painfully. I have a strong stomach and an equally strong mental fortitude for things, and it made me nauseated. It chilled me. Maybe that was the point. But I'm also 30 years old and I know better than to try and die by suicide because I understand that death is FINAL and there is no coming back. In the novel, Hannah's suicide is vague, but it can be inferred that she dies by taking an overdose of pills. In an interview with Seventeen, Jay Asher, author of the book, was quoted as saying, "We worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide."

Welp, Jay and Selena, it was gratuitous. And you skipped the middle part. You know, the actual dying. You went from bleeding in a bathtub to totally dead. You didn't talk about how when your blood pressure plummets, your heart rate goes up to try and correct it, and you become starved of oxygen because there isn't enough blood in your body to get it to your brain, even though you're breathing just fine. In fact, you're probably hyperventilating. Feeling panicky because at this point, yeah, you're going to die, probably and now you can feel it. You forgot that part.

So no. There is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide. You just certainly wouldn't get that idea from watching 13 Reasons Why.

So, why should we listen to you?

I mean, go ahead, don't listen to me. You're a grown-up. I'm only one person, shouting into the void of the internet along with millions of other people. But I can tell you this. When I was 16, I was suicidal. I spent 10 days in an intensive, outpatient program. It was hell. I was contemplating suicide a second time at 27. That time, I spent 4 days as an inpatient on a psychiatric ward of a hospital. It was also hell, in case you were wondering. For 14 years, I self-injured. For 4 years, I have been a recovering self-injurer. When my depression gets bad, it is a conscious choice I have to make to not hurt myself. It is not always easy. Depression is hard. It lies. Constantly.

While I can't say how I would have felt if I had read this book or seen this series when I was 16, I can pretty much guarantee that the answer wouldn't be, "Way better and way less likely to hurt myself,". What did help me wasn't books or shows about other teenagers dying by suicide and the dramatics that followed. What helped were my friends and teachers who weren't afraid to tell my mom they were worried about me, even after I "swore them to secrecy". Therapists I saw on a regular basis. Oh, and drugs. SSRI's are a huge part of why I'm here today. Better living through chemistry.

If you have already watched the show, or you're still going to watch it, then I want you to remember this. Suicide is not meant to be consumed as mass entertainment. 13 Reasons Why wants you to think it is.

If you've watched the show, how did you feel about it? Did you read the book beforehand? Let's chat.




6 comments:

  1. I've refused to watch this series. Nothing about it appeals to me. I work with children who have been through traumas, have considered and/or attempted suicide, and are struggling with anger/depression/anxiety/self-destructive behavior. I take these things extremely seriously and having a whole show that glamorizes it without accurately representing what someone who struggles with mental health goes through was so far from appealing to me. I consider myself lucky in that the past 3 years I've been working in mental health (2.5 years of that in a psych hospital) that I've only had one suicide after discharge on my caseload. That is still too much and tragic. 13 Reasons Why seems to undo all the work that has been put out there to encourage people to seek help.
    I also wanted to take time to thank you for your honesty. It takes a lot to be able to put yourself out there like that. I'm glad to hear you're doing alright.

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    1. You are doing such important work, and I am glad that the mental health system has people like you working in it. It needs all the help it can get.

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  2. My boyfriend and I are watching this series and I have similar thoughts to you about it. Honestly, I read the book in college because it's adolescent lit and I didn't love it, I thought it sensationalized it. I wish people would talk more about getting help when you need it.
    Sidenote, I'm terrified to watch the final episode :/

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    1. Honestly, it's a really hard episode to watch. I would have my finger on the fast-forward button.

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  3. I haven't and won't see it.

    The best point you bring up, in my opinion, is that in death she gets everything that she wants. She gets adulation, revenge, change, love. That's the opposite of what we should be showing when it comes to suicide. You have to live to get all of those things.

    Also, I am a 911 dispatcher and you can always always call 911 if you need help or even someone to talk to. Many of us are trained in crisis intervention and if we aren't we have resources that we can either send to you or give you numbers for. We don't care because it's our job, most of us are doing this because we care.

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  4. I wish I had read this before I watched the show. I have two episodes left and I'm really not sure I want to finish it. I have not read the book so I wasn't really sure what the show would be. I was hoping it would be something better, something that would address all the things you mentioned above, something that would help people with mental illness share their stories. I kept hoping there would be some big twist where she wasn't actually dead. That would have been a much better story.

    Thank you for talking about this. I love you and I'm so glad you're here =)
    -Lynn

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