By Olivia Morrison
On April 21, the WHS counseling department sent out an email to all parents and staff, warning them of the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The series follows Clay Jensen, a high school boy who receives a mysterious box containing cassette tapes recorded by classmate Hannah Baker, who committed suicide just two weeks prior. Throughout the tapes, Hannah addresses the 13 people who contributed to her decision in killing herself.
Since its release, the show has received lots of backlash from our school district and across the nation based on the claim that it is dangerous for teens due to its “inauthentic” and “glamorized” depiction of suicide. With graphic depictions of rape and suicide, many mental health experts have condemned the show for misinforming viewers about adolescent depression. Included in the email was a reference to Phyllis Alongi, a clinical director at the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, who said, “Hannah’s story is fictional, tragic, and not the norm.”
This knee-jerk reaction to what has become an uncomfortable topic in society is very well-intentioned and in its right, holds some truth. The themes and overall graphic nature of the show are potentially dangerous to a teen struggling with mental health issues. But to call the plot abnormal is simply speculation. On what grounds can someone conclude that Hannah’s suicide is unrealistic?
A popular argument against the show is that it sets forth the supposedly false notion that other people can cause someone to commit suicide as opposed to their own mental illness. The rationale is that the cryptic tapes Hannah left distracts from the message of mental illness. The way I see it, though, is that the show isn’t meant to educate its viewers on how mental illness works nor is it discounting the role that mental illness plays in suicide. By not outwardly addressing Hannah’s cognitive distortions, the show is able to capture the reality that mental health is rarely addressed in today’s society.
People can certainly be led to kill themselves because of other people’s actions, and that in itself is a clear indication of mental illness. In addition to being sexually assaulted and harassed, the leading cause of Hannah’s suicide resulted from being abandoned by her friends. Hannah, like many suicidal teens, wanted the people who hurt her to feel the same pain that she felt. This may be upsetting to accept, but that doesn’t make it untrue.
Every mental illness is unique, as is every suicide. The show may not serve as a good educational resource for the science behind mental health issues but it serves as an example of why one teen—not all—killed herself. For Hannah, the people she listed in the tapes are the reason she committed suicide. We can psychoanalyze her all we want, but the fact is, that was her truth and we have no idea how much someone else relates to it. So take the show for what it is and whatever you do, don’t judge a suicide even if it doesn’t make sense to you.