In the midst of high praise from the media, viewers of the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” are misguided on the subjects of mental health and suicide. (PC: International Business Times)
In spite of widespread praise, the trending Netflix series may have gotten a few things wrong
You’ve probably heard it all by now—this newfound idea that everyone should be treated with kindness because you never really know what’s going on in someone’s life, this epiphany that any small action can jumpstart tragic chain reactions, this sudden widespread change of heart—all elicited from the trending, highly praised Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”
Social media posts about how the story of Hannah Baker’s suicide has encouraged its viewers to handle the topics of bullying and suicidal thoughts more seriously have quickly found their way through our Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines. Since the commencement of the series, the social media atmosphere seems to be filled with sympathy, increased awareness, and kindness.
While this rapid spread of positivity seems harmless, it’s important to consider every single detail and circumstance of the series closely and carefully and ask ourselves: did the producers of “13 Reasons Why” address the topic of suicide appropriately? I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you about mental health and suicide—or more specifically, why “13 Reasons Why” failed to realistically address the topic. And if you’re listening closely, you might want to reconsider that five-star review you posted the other day.
Don’t get me wrong—the show itself, if we’re looking at what factors make a good series (such as plot, character development, etc.), is truly compelling. The execution of the storyline and its mystery left me wanting to know more at the end of each episode. The element of surprise when addressing each of the characters’ dark secrets brought complexity and depth to each of the tapes’ victims, leaving the audience conflicted between their toxic pasts and their increasing destructive guilt.
Additionally, the series did shed light on several avoided topics of controversy such as cyberbullying, rape culture, high school pressures, slut-shaming, and the dangers of the technological age—and they did a superb job in doing so. However, they seemed to miss the mark when addressing the main conflict of the story: the realities of suicide.
Throughout the series, we follow teenager Clay Jensen as he listens to 13 cassette tapes left for him and 11 other people by their classmate Hannah Baker, in which she reiterates the events and reasons that eventually led up to her suicide, with each tape representing a person that contributed to her devastating fate. Each episode, which is dedicated to one tape and one person, retraces the unfortunate encounters that she had with each given person that eventually caused her to take her own life. These encounters range from minor mistakes such as Ryan’s publication of Hannah’s private poem, to traumatic experiences such as Bryce Walker’s acts of rape and sexual assault. Through each episode, through each tape, and through each reason, we learn about the evils of high school hierarchy, we understand how they devoured Hannah Baker’s life, and we realize how such situations could very well devour any of ours.
It all sounds extremely devastating. All of Hannah’s drama is extremely tragic, overwhelming, and disturbing to witness and to think about, but that’s exactly the problem—the show focuses on the drama in her life rather than the psychological and mental aspects that contributed to her suicide.
While specific events and circumstances can certainly contribute to one’s suicidal tendencies, the psychological processes behind suicides are so much more complex than that. Mental health is the most important thing to consider when evaluating suicides; although not all victims of suicide suffer from mental illnesses, there is always a mental aspect at play when someone chooses to take his/her life. “13 Reasons Why” completely disregards this factor.
The producers tended to focus the series on specific events and people in Hannah’s life that supposedly caused her suicidal actions. But in reality, suicide is never solely driven by specific external forces. Suicidal thoughts are a mental process—it requires a copious amount of internalized psychological contemplation for someone to make such a decision about their fate. While external forces can certainly contribute to suicidal thoughts, they are never the sole reasons for one to take his/her own life. So while Hannah’s tapes suggest that the given 13 people are the reasons for her death, the true reason for her death is derived from a combination of these events themselves and how she mentally handled these situations. There is an entire mental process that must occur after the driving external forces take place and before the actual suicide happens, and the producers failed to acknowledge this.
Furthermore, in suggesting that specific events and specific people are the reasons that people choose to take their own lives, “13 Reasons Why” implies the concept that surviving peers should be blamed for a victim’s death, which should never be the case. People hurt and harm other people—whether this pain is inflicted unintentionally or intentionally, it is an inevitable fact that we are all faced with throughout life. And while people should take responsibility and face the consequences of their actions, this idea of blaming others for a suicide is toxic and should not be induced into young minds, especially if viewers have personally known someone who has taken their own life.
So while you may think you’ve stumbled upon a life-steering revelation after watching this series, you’ve probably failed to realize the truth behind it—or rather, its lack of truth. If you think “13 Reasons Why” is receiving praise for raising awareness on the subjects of teen suicide and mental health, I’m sorry to break it to you: it’s receiving praise for its dramatically compelling storyline, its irresistibly mysterious characters, and its complete ignorance of suicide’s harshest realities. Wake up, look past the social media frenzy, and realize that a show that is supposed to evoke serious discussions on such a dark topic has fabricated the true calamity of it with cliché high school scenarios.