13 Reasons Why is all anyone can talk about recently so I decided to tune in. I admit I got sucked in rather quickly and wanted to see how everything unraveled. In a nutshell, there is a high school student who has a run of bad luck, then is bullied and taunted, and eventually horribly raped. She ends up committing suicide and leaves 13 tapes behind to all those who contributed to her outcome.
I am incredibly torn on how I feel about this show. Having dealt with depression for most of my life, I find it a bit refreshing that the topic is being addressed. As a huge advocate of removing the mental health stigma, I think this is so important. However, the main audience who is watching this are pre-teens and teenagers. I personally feel this is entirely too much for anyone under 16, and should be watched and discussed with parents if they do watch it. I agree that mental health, bullying, depression, rape, drinking, and suicide all need much more awareness brought to them. So for that, I think the show is a good thing. On the flip side, I think this show can be dangerous for those who are battling severe depression, and possibly even glorifying suicide. Allow me to explain.
The main character who kills herself ends up getting community-wide attention. Through these tapes, a wide circle of students are constantly talking about her and reliving things that happened, reflecting in their part in it all and figuring out how to cover their asses. Parents in the community are offering sympathy, and the entire school is shaken up by it all. The message portrayed is suicide=attention. If someone is bordering on suicide, this just may push them over the edge.
Hannah, the main character, also takes things WAY too seriously. Being put on a list for having a great ass is not the end of the world. Granted, the only social media we had growing up was MySpace, so it was a different time. But the photo of the girls kissing was not a big deal to me. Or people spreading rumors. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but we dealt with things like that ALL the time in high school. Sometimes you had a bad week or two and then everyone moved on. You either laughed it off, cried or hid as much as possible, and I’m pretty darn sensitive so that is saying a lot. Here is some of what I went through:
I was bullied by a gal named Lisa in one semester. She was a total bitch to me for absolutely zero reason. She went out of her way to humiliate me on a daily basis in our class together. I seriously had no interactions with her EVER. She just decided she was going to target me. I hated her. I wanted to kick the shit out of her. I really did. I threw out one of her class projects when no one was in the room. I messed up another. I had a friend who had a car and we gave her house a “lawn job”. It was my small way of exacting revenge. I’m not saying it was easy. I cried, often. I shrunk down at the beginning of each class and prayed today wouldn’t be too bad. I ignored her. I had a great time with those at my table. But inside I was cringing and counting the seconds until I could get out of a class that I actually loved.
I also was bullied, badly, by this shithead named Danny if I remember correctly, on the bus, who was like 2 years younger than me and a total waste of air. Despite me being older, despite me having plenty of friends, despite me ignoring him or swearing at him, he still made fun of me every day, out loud, for the whole bus to hear. So I ended up walking to school. It was like a 2 mile trek everyday, but I did it just to avoid him. I’m pretty sure he’s in prison now.
There were 2 Amy’s that taunted me. One was on the swim team, one was in my gym class. The latter was a fat ass (at least compared to me at the time), loud mouth who wanted to be an actress or something. She was the definition of obnoxious. So when she went to town on me, the entire room heard. They both teased me when I would change in the locker room because I’m Hispanic and therefore hairy. I had hairy arms and hair on my back. I always shaved everywhere else. I tried bleaching my arm hair, using Nair, wax, nothing really worked. I eventually shaved my arms. Actually, I was teased for this since 5th grade and to this day, am still self conscious about it. We’d be on the pool deck during a meet, and the other Amy would start on me. She was nothing to write home about so I figured it was her own insecurities but it still sucked.
My point to all this is that so many of us dealt with shit growing up. It’s par for the course. It’s a rite of passage. Were there kids who had it a lot worse? Absolutely. Was I an asshole to some kids? Sure, I definitely wasn’t perfect in high school. I tried to be nice to everyone who was nice to me, and I had friends in all circles because I didn’t care about that crap. Everyone wants to fit in on some level and high school can be brutal and drama filled. However, if I let every one of those instances haunt me to the point of being suicidal, then they win and I was NOT about to let them win, nor was I ready to give up on life. The show portrays Hannah as having 2 loving, caring and supportive parents. Yet it made no difference to Hannah when I think in a lot of cases it would.
I do remember vividly how certain athletes, especially male, could do no wrong. They got away with all sorts of things. The show has a whole lot of people covering up for a rapist, who is a top athlete. It’s extremely disturbing to me and although I wish this was far from the truth, we’ve seen plenty of examples of rapists getting away with it in real life. Brock Turner, David Becker, Nicholas Fifield, and John Enochs anyone?
The show portrays 2 graphic rape scenes. I personally did not see these as necessary. You can get the point across without showing it. But the show has a lot of shock value, and I think the intention was to show just how traumatic it is for women who have been victims. Possibly to make someone think twice. Possibly to encourage someone to come forward.
The show also graphically shows Hannah slicing her wrists open in a bath tub, bleeding out and her parents finding her. This literally traumatized me on some levels and I’m 36. I’ve known at least 6 people who have tried to commit suicide. To see it in action was horrific. Was it a scare tactic to show how awful suicide is? Was it to show how much pain she was in? Why show her slitting her wrists? This could be so triggering.
The show never addresses any mental conditions per se. I think it is implied that Hannah was severely depressed. I wish it would have explored this a bit more on a deeper level. I did appreciate how the show showed her visiting her guidance counselor in an effort to seek help. That sadly did not go anywhere. But I wish they would have showed her maybe talking to her parents about it or talking to Clay, trying therapy, trying medication, calling a suicide line, something else to emphasize she saw it as absolutely her last resort.
My hope in those young, vulnerable minds watching the show is that they see suicide as a very last resort, if not an option at all. If they are engaging in self destructive behaviors such as self mutilation, heavy drinking, etc. maybe this will be an opening to seek help. Maybe guidance counselors and teachers and students know what signs to look for now. It isn’t always so black and white and obvious. Maybe kids will think twice about what they say and do to others. The potential impact it could have. Overall, I’m glad discussions are taking place around these serious and all too common issues. I just hope the second season brings about more understanding and education.
I don’t know if that was 13 reasons or not, but who’s counting?