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“13 Reasons Why” Does Not Speak for the Suicidal

Anonymous, Guest Journalist

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The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based off of a popular young-adult novel by Jay Asher, was released on March 31 of this year. The series revolves around Hannah Baker, a high school junior who commits suicide and leaves behind audio tapes for the people who she claims caused her to take her own life.

The series has been met with overwhelmingly positive reception. While many genuinely enjoy the show, much of the positivity is either out of fear of seeming insensitive or a lack of understanding of the topic.

But they fail to acknowledge the toxicity of the show.

13 Reasons Why sends an unhealthy message to everyone who views it, through the unrealistic idea that you can “love someone back to life,” the acceptance of blaming everyone for your problems, the selfishness and self-absorption of Hannah Baker, and the fear that will be created for people who know someone who may be suicidal or may have committed.

People have praised the show for showing the importance of being kind to one another, as we don’t recognize the impact we can have on each other. However, the show creates more fear than awareness of the issues.

Hannah Baker does not tell anyone about her problems throughout the entire series, no one except for her school counselor in the final episode, but we’ll get to that later.

She does not reach out to her parents or a teacher or a professional, and simply expects everyone to notice how sad she is and take care of her in the way that works for her. Frankly, that is extremely selfish, and the fact that this surrounds a topic as serious as teen suicide makes this dangerous.

Everyone, suicidal or not, needs to know that we are all far too wrapped up in our own lives sometimes, and we are all self-absorbed. Hannah blames people for her death because of things that they did out of self-preservation, because they were dealing with their own demons, but because they did not stop everything they were doing and tend to her exactly the way she wanted, and stay with her when she was literally screaming at them to “get the hell out,” they are the reason she is dead. That is the message that this show is sending.

Not only that, but Hannah’s suicide somewhat exempts her of all guilt, and she seems aware of this. In the tapes, you can tell that she knows that she will be the last to be blamed in this and she treats herself like a martyr.

For example, in one, her friend Jessica is raped while passed out drunk, and Hannah witnesses this in a closet. Jessica’s boyfriend Justin breaks into the room and tries to stop the rapist, but he is punched in the face, thrown out of the room, and the rapist locks the bedroom door and continues raping Jessica.

Even though Hannah had far more opportunity to stop the rape than Justin did, she blamed Justin for not doing anything further to stop the rapist, and blamed Justin for the guilt that caused Hannah to kill herself. Even though she literally did nothing, and watched it happen, she blamed a guy that tried to stop it and got assaulted as a result. And she barely touches on the suffering of her friend, and when she does, it is only to connect it to why she killed herself.

13 Reasons Why provides an unrealistic portrayal of suicide for two main reasons.

First, here is an unpopular opinion and a truth that this show ignores: when you kill yourself, you are the one killing yourself and your actions are the reason you are dead. Even when all of those people did those things to Hannah, the reason she is dead, the defining action, is the fact that she killed herself.  Many people have gone through similar struggles and lived through it, but Hannah made the choice to end her life, and not everyone makes that choice.

The problem is that people are afraid to express this truth because they don’t want to seem like they are being cruel to a dead person. This is an understandable fear, but it is unjustified. It is a simple fact, and acknowledging it does not mean that you are saying the person deserved to die or the person deserved to suffer. Those statements are not the same thing.

Just because you commit suicide does not mean you are necessarily an innocent victim.

Second, the show completely ignores how mental health plays into suicide. Hannah very obviously suffered from depression, anxiety and possible PTSD, but these issues are never identified and never treated.

If the producers truly wanted to help people that are suicidal, then they would have portrayed mental issues as just as legitimate as they are, and they would have discussed how to receive help for it, and how to reach out to professionals. They do none of that, and instead portray suicide as nothing more than a symptom of people being mean.

The producers of the show have stated that the main reason for making the show, and especially for showing Hannah’s suicide as graphically as they did, is to “show that there is nothing whatsoever worthwhile about suicide.” Considering the way they go about this, however, it is hard to see this message coming across.

The entire show is basically a revenge fantasy, and romanticizes suicide as a way to make people listen to you and feel bad for you. That is exactly how Hannah saw suicide, and she is a character that many across the world are now looking up to. There are people who are contemplating suicide right now that will watch this show and see this as the answer to their problems; not to get help, not to focus on mental health, not to work on personal healing, but to kill themselves and blame everyone else for it, and blame it on them after they’re dead so that they can’t do anything about it and live with guilt for the rest of their lives.

This show also poses a danger, as people may feel pressured to stay in situations they should not be in, for fear of the person killing themselves. For example, if a teenage girl were to be in an abusive relationship and her partner said, “If you leave me, I will kill myself,” and she saw this show, it is very possible that she may stay in the abusive relationship for fear of “not being nice enough” and henceforth pushing someone to commit suicide.

A key scene in the series is one where Hannah has just finished talking to her school counselor. There is a microphone in her bag, as she is secretly recording the conversation for the audio tapes in case he does nothing to deter her from committing. She walks out of the office after he apparently fails, and waits for him to come after her, and when he doesn’t, she goes home and slits her wrists in her bathtub.

That one tiny moment is monumental in reality, as it shows just how manipulative Hannah is. She orchestrated these events to put people in positions where they can either make the decision she likes or the decision they don’t, and when they make a decision she doesn’t like she issues incredibly hard consequences that they were not initially aware of.

Also, the fact that Hannah had apparently reached her breaking point, also to “try one last time” by going to the counselor, but then wait for him to come after her, shows just how insincere her actions actually are.

I am fully aware that Hannah Baker is not an actual person. I am fully aware that this show is not a true story, but it is reflecting a very true and serious issue.

A common response to disapproval of the show is that those who dislike it simply don’t understand the subject matter. I have been told that “the only people that don’t like the show are those who aren’t suicidal.” That is completely untrue, as I have personally attempted suicide, and this show does not represent me or speak for me or even relate to me in any way.

I have been dealing with depression since the age of seven, shortly after I was molested at six. I experienced severe social anxiety and low self-esteem throughout my childhood which led to many eating disorders that started at around the age of eight. By the time I attempted suicide at seventeen years old (about two months ago) I had already contemplated doing so several times, the first time being around the age of ten.

By the time that day came, I felt completely worthless and defective as a human being and I didn’t think I would leave much of an absence when I was gone. It was not motivated by other people, and to this day, I do not blame the fact that I overdosed on Advil PMs on other people. In fact, I was terrified of people blaming themselves for my actions. I did what I did because I had a severe problem with myself, and those types of problems with one’s self are not acknowledged at all in 13 Reasons Why. And in line with what else is ignored in the show, after my attempt, I saw an expert and was actually diagnosed with an additional mental disorder.

13 Reasons Why is a toxic show that spreads a dangerous message to both the suicidal and ones that have no personal experience with suicide, and there is no need for criticism of the show to be deemed exclusively for the non-suicidal, as I have personally attempted suicide and do not relate to the show whatsoever.

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“13 Reasons Why” Does Not Speak for the Suicidal