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’13 Reasons’ causes more harm than good

By Dorian Krasteff

Series about teen suicide misses the mark. Photo courtesy of netflix.com.
Series about teen suicide misses the mark.
Photo courtesy of netflix.com.

As many students may know, Netflix has been making their own original content for a while. Their most popular shows so far are “Orange is the New Black” and “Stranger Things.” Netflix decided to create a serious show that would bring awareness to suicide and depression but instead managed to glorify it. That show is “13 Reasons Why.”

It is centered around a high school girl named Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) and why she committed suicide. She records the 13 reasons that lead her to take her life on cassette tapes. The point of the show is to bring awareness about mental health and how to help loved ones who are depressed or suicidal. But in reality, it all backfires.

Before we get to the important stuff, the acting is quite average and nothing extraordinary. The storyline is confusing at times and the first few episodes are slow and uninteresting. The main characters, Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker, have many faults which make them annoying and boring.

Clay, played by Dylan Minnette, is oblivious to glaring problems that had been troubling Hannah, such as her being verbally bullied. The show is based on the novel by Jay Asher, and readers say that the Netflix adaptation is nothing like it. But the main reason the whole show is a flop is its unsuccessful message.

The show takes place after Hannah’s death and is about the background of 13 students and how they affected her life. She leaves behind 13 tapes and explains what each person did and how they affect the end result: Hannah taking her life. She blames these students for making her commit suicide, which is wrong and cruel.

This show portrays suicide as a way for someone to get revenge on people who have hurt them. The decision of taking one’s life is their choice, no one else’s. That is a personal choice that Hannah decides to make. Throughout the show, these 13 students all react differently when hearing their tape and realizing how much they affected Hannah personally.

One of the teens, Alex Standall (Miles Heizer), has a very strong reaction when hearing the tapes. He constantly blames himself for Hannah’s death and, like Hannah, accuses the other teens of helping to kill her. Alex begins to exhibit signs of depression himself, and says in one of the episodes, “What, so if I kill myself, do you die too?”

There are a few other signs that become more evident towards the last episodes of the first season, such as Alex cleaning up his room, making it unusually tidy and saying goodbye to some people. These things all lead to another death in the finale. It is unclear whether this is self-inflicted or it was from someone else, leaving a cliffhanger for the second season.

Research shows that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in teens and young adults. According to a California Healthy Kids survey, one in five teen students has contemplated suicide. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health states that “teens who know friends or family members who have attempted suicide are about three times more likely to attempt suicide than are teens who do not know someone who attempted suicide.”

Even if a teen has never been depressed or suicidal, but they know someone who is, this show could easily trigger thoughts in them and could lead them to become depressed later on.

With all the faults the show already exhibits, the show does include a counselor who attempts to help Hannah. Hannah seeks help from her after being assaulted. As their conversation progresses, it is evident that the counselor blames Hannah for getting raped. This portrayal of a counselor seems inaccurate.  Most people in that position today would not blame a teen for a traumatic assault. It also sends the wrong message to struggling teens that it’s not worth looking for help because counselors or therapists won’t be helpful.

Once the show became extremely popular, social media helped it take off even more, with negative effects. People who watched the show trivialized suicide by making memes about the show and suicide and depression as a whole. People, specifically teens, coined the phrase “I’m going to pull a Hannah Baker”, implying that they would kill themselves over something small, like forgetting their homework at home. Or whenever they are faced with a minor inconvenience, they would say they were “triggered.”

Obviously, most people that say these things are uneducated able minded teens that have no idea how heavy the topic of suicide and depression is and think it’s funny or trendy to throw around these sensitive phrases. If someone is actually triggered, they usually have a strong negative reaction to something that reminds them of a painful experience. It is not a word to use if your mom doesn’t buy you ice cream or someone doesn’t let you borrow a pencil.

Now, one could say to someone who is suicidal or has depression should not watch the show, but that just isn’t right. Shows like this that cover such topics haven’t really been made before, so it’s important that mentally ill people are portrayed correctly. If someone who is going through depression or has suicidal thoughts sees a show like this and can say that their experience is shown accurately, then the show is worth being seen by everyone. But to take such important subject matter and portray it inaccurately is irresponsible.

This show is a complete flop from the smallest details to the overarching message. It never truly brings awareness to the importance of mental health, at least not in an accurate or helpful way. People on social media have ruined the show even more by making jokes about suicide and depression.

There are many things that the writers could have done to raise the topic of suicide and depression in a respectful manner. They could have shown characters seeking information about mental health to learn about signs of depression, or Hannah calling a suicide prevention hotline. The writers could have also added websites and hotlines people could visit or call at the end of all of the episodes.  But why would they bother bringing up such touchy subject in a considerate way? The creators would rather romanticize the idea of suicide and have viewers watch a girl get raped and then see her slit her wrists and bleed to death in her bathtub. What a great conversation starter, no?

 

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