*WARNING: 13 Reasons Why spoilers*
About two weeks ago I sat down on my bed and opened Netflix. I kept scrolling and scrolling until, wait. I scrolled back up. In the Netflix Originals section there was a poster for 13 Reasons Why. I remember hearing so much hype for this show and seeing so many pictures from it. Not to mention, Selena Gomez, a producer for the show, raved about it on her Instagram a month ago. Almost impulsively I clicked play and listened to those first words, ringing through my ears.
“Hi, I’m Hannah Baker, live and in stereo.”
I was instantly hooked and stayed that way until the last episode. However, by the time I was done, I was shaking and crying. No, it didn’t move me or inspire me to donate to suicide prevention lines. It gave me a panic attack. That’s the hook. The show slowly, mysteriously arises, making you want more. The end comes in flashes and ends with a bang.
Up until this point, I’ve loved most shows I’ve watched on Netflix. Stranger Things brought a retro spin on an eerie missing child’s case, and Netflix also revived some of my favorite shows from my childhood, like Degrassi and Bill Nye. However, 13 Reasons Why seems rushed and overly dramatic. They took Jay Asher’s book and made it a sloppy real-life version.
Obviously the show can’t be exactly like the book, explaining the various character changes, such as Sheri and Courtney, and depicting some timeline and technology differences. Of course, they had to spread out Clay listening to the tapes to supplement an entire season of episodes. It makes sense that they’d show different perspectives to create more depth and keep interest at bay. In 2007, when the book was originally published, social media wasn’t as popular as nowadays, which makes the technology advancement sensical.
That doesn’t explain why they changed Hannah’s suicide. When I saw her death scene, my stomach twisted into a pretzel, with a cold, hollow feeling. I started crying and hyperventilating. Yes, there was a warning at the beginning of the episode, but nothing could’ve prepared me for seeing her slit her wrists and bleed out in a bathtub. My full-body aching became worse when I found out that they changed it from Jay Asher’s original story. In the book, Clay simply mentions that “Hannah swallowed some pills.”
Some have said that this scene only makes the show more powerful. However, seeing something as graphic as that does more harm than good. In fact, Hannah’s suicide could be a risk factor for those on the edge. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states, “Exposure to another person’s suicide, or too graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide” could be an environment stressor that could trigger a suicide attempt. While it is given that there will be mentions of suicide, it isn’t publicized that a graphic suicide attempt is present in the show.
Many mental health professionals have spoken out about the negative affects of this show. Along with Hannah’s suicide attempt, the story itself glorifies suicide. The entire show is buzzing all around social media for its amazing cast and storyline, so it’s hard to detach it from all the talk, to talk about what it’s actually worth.
The entire premise is that a girl kills herself and blames it on other people, which is usually the opposite of what actually happens when someone takes their life. There is usually a feeling of helplessness and worthlessness, but suicide is (and always will be) the choice of a single individual. Viewers also miss the internal struggle that most people on the edge experience – the constant back and forth decision-making of whether or not they’ll commit.
Other less prominent issues are in play. Clay’s childhood friend, Skye Miller, tells him that suicide is for the weak and cutting is for those who are strong. Despite being grotesquely wrong, this glorifies self-harm, as a “strong” thing to do. Self harm is never a healthy, safe choice and can cause numerous health problems, besides leaving scars. The school’s health counselor’s, Kevin Porter, lack of training is appalling. He doesn’t recognize obvious signs of Hannah’s suicidal thoughts and doesn’t report that she was sexually assaulted after he pressures her into giving out the name of her assailant, which she refuses to do out of fear. This scene will discourage many students to seek help in times of need, which could cause many lives to be lost.
Finally, Alex’s suspected suicide attempt is unnecessary and a cheap way to obtain a second season. He obviously exhibited signs of suicidal ideation, but this was uncalled for. The story has no mention of Alex killing himself and for a show that wants to honor the original story, this makes zero sense. My hope is that if they make a second season, they will be more aware of how to handle his suicide in a more appropriate (and less triggering) fashion.
For what its worth, this show does open up a dialogue about suicide awareness. While the information in this show isn’t all factual, it at least depicts suicide as a very real, very horrible thing. If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.