Attention: spoilers and potential trigger warnings contained in this article!
13 Reasons Why is an incredible hit. However, there has been a general opinion that I’ve seen floating around online that, according to some viewers, and readers, 13 Reasons Why glorifies and romanticises suicide.
As someone who has suffered from long-term depression, who has been suicidal, sexually assaulted, and bullied and who tried to end their life, I do not agree with the opinion that it glorifies suicide. I think this is a show that needed to be created, a book that needed to be written. I think it depicts accurately the battle with depression; it does not follow the stereotype of the ‘typically depressed’ person who is an emo and self-harms. But here is why I believe some viewers think it does.
The premise of the book and TV show isn’t meant to be pretty; it is meant to make you question and ideally change how you act towards others. Hannah Baker could be just seen as a privileged, middle-class, academically strong young girl with a bright future. And yet she is slut-shamed and bullied; and I’ve seen a lot of backlash online that what Hannah experiences is ‘normal’.
Unfortunately, it could be seen to be normal in high-schools, not just in the US, but also here, in the UK. There are some individuals that will be able to shake it off; but especially when you are growing up, and trying to find your own identity, it can be tough for some to simply ‘shake it off’ or ‘move on,’ as parents/friends/teachers would often say. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health illnesses don’t pick-and-choose people either; they can affect anyone.
I very much was a ‘Hannah’ in school, therefore I think this show is very important. I can identify with the fact that schools shy away from helping students, and admitting that issues like these occur within the school halls, in-between lessons. But no one knew I suffered from depression, because I wasn’t especially ‘emo’. Hannah is like this too, she isn’t ‘typically depressed’ (regardless of this, what a typically depressed person means will forever be a mystery to me).
Many say 13 Reasons Why glorifies suicide and says that it’s the only answer when you are suffering from depression. But I don’t think it does; I think it does the complete opposite.
It highlights that killing yourself affects those around you, the people who matter to you and who should have been able to prevent you taking your own life. It is very tricky for those around you to know how to help and reach out when they might notice that you are showing signs of depression, but there will always be a circle of people who feel responsible, like they should have reached out.
The graphic depictions of sexual assault, rape, and ultimately Hannah’s suicide are meant to be uncomfortable; they are meant to stick in your mind long after you have finished watching the show. I can’t deny that this show is triggering for anyone who has suffered from any of the issues shown, but it is necessary to educate the part of the world who have not been through serious bullying, sexual harassment, depression, or any other mental illness.
It is clear to me that those who directed and produced the show did this on purpose, to really hit home the message that something may be a little thing to you, but it could mean the whole world to another individual. It is a way to highlight the huge issue with schools and how they often shift the blame onto the student, as they did with Hannah’s rape, and how they overlook a large amount of the bullying and warning signs of a suicidal individual, such as the one that Alex expresses throughout the show. The depiction of the two rape scenes is a means to try and show what rape survivors have experienced, and why it is so soul-destroying.
Now let’s talk specifically about the suicide scene. There has been a lot of backlash about the fact that they showed the exact method that Hannah chose to kill herself. I can’t deny that watching the scene was particularly difficult for me; I had to pause it half-way. And again, I can’t deny that it is a known fact to a huge amount of people that slitting your wrists in the bath is an effective and common method of suicide. But one thing I do commend the show for doing is not hiding the fact that it is a painful way to die; it does not lead viewers to assume it’s an easy way to die, since it wasn’t shown on-screen. This I feel is very important to those who romanticise suicide as something ‘beautiful’, or those who say it’s easy, brave, or cowardly to kill yourself.
If I were to critique the show, I would say there are a couple of scenes that are very stereotypical, and, if taken out of context, they could be seen to be trivialising suicide, self-harm and depression. But these are important scenes if you consider them on a deeper level; these are the reactions that a lot of people have in these situations. And by accurately depicting that these are unacceptable and inaccurate things to say, I can only hope that it will also cause a lot of individuals to rethink what they may have said in the past to others, or how they will react in the future.
I think this show is necessary now, since, even though we are sitting in 2017, it is still uncomfortable and taboo to discuss rape and suicide, with people often joking about it, saying it’s too depressing, and calling you emo or suicidal as an insult if you do want to have an open discussion about it. But the show has started a lot of conversations, and I think it will drive a lot of people to seek professional help.
Sufferers from various mental health illnesses should not be trivialised or ignored. And what this show does is bring this topic directly into the public eye where we can’t shy away from it anymore.
If you are feeling suicidal, depressed, or have been bullied or sexually assaulted, please reach out to someone. I cannot urge this enough. It really does help to talk to someone. I know it may not seem that way to you right now, but you will get through this. I am living proof of this, and so are many others who have been through exactly what you are going through. I won’t stand here and say that once you’ve recovered you’re fixed and that’s it; there will be hard days. But it’s better to be alive and fighting through them, than dead.
If you have been affected by the show, please reach out to someone; the Centre of Wellbeing is always there, but also mind.org.uk (0300 123 3393) and www.samaritans.org (116 123) have incredible 24/7 online and telephone services.
Text by an anonymous writer
Picture research by Donna Darafshian.