Trigger Warning: This op-ed article extensively mentions depression, anxiety, suicide, bullying/abuse, and sexual assault.
March 31st, 2017 hallmarked a transcontinental Netflix Original Series premiere, ravaging the internet community with a tenacious mania to be enraptured by the ‘play’ button, akin to that of the foregrounded thirteen cassette tapes. Thirteen Reasons Why—an adaptation from the Thirteen Reasons Why novel, orchestrated by Jay Asher, a forty-one-year old American Young Adult author hailing from Arcadia, California—limelights the lamentable narrative of Hannah Baker, a junior at Liberty High School in a suburbia echoing San Luis, California, a hometown of Asher’s. Ensuing the aftershock of her unanticipated succumbing to suicide, Clay Jensen, a classmate and paramour of Hannah’s, is acquainted with a series of the aforementioned thirteen cassette tapes. Throughout each recording, Hannah centralizes on a counterpart to her storyline—and, unfortunately, how she discerns their contribution to her ultimate expiry. As Clay tunes in via his companion and overseer, Tony Padilla’s, antiquated Walkman, he and the audience contemplate Hannah’s significance in life and in decease, and the multitudinous closeted skeletons of their compeers.
Albeit Thirteen Reasons Why has been acknowledged with commendation throughout social media and newsworthy platforms, mental health specialists, journalists, and the viewers themselves have been contending its consensus of endorsement with cumbersome assessments and criticisms.
As a homage to the diversified commentary, I, a junior at a Michigan High School who has heretofore been clinically diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, am harnessing my metaphorical podium to communicate my respective discontentment with Thirteen Reasons Why alongside professional and peer review.
To commence, Reporting on Suicide published a guideline formulated by suicide prevention experts and specialized journalists of “recommendations” with regards to depicting suicidal ideation and exertion throughout any medium. The paragraph affirms that the, “Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. Suicide Contagion, or ‘Copycat Suicide,’ occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.”
Episode thirteen, “Tape Seven, Side A” of the television stream has become relatively notorious for rendering Hannah’s resolution to commit suicide within a gruesomely uncensored bathroom scene. Although the beginning of the episode demonstrates a trigger warning reminiscent of “viewer discretion is advised”, the explicit portrayal of Hannah lacerating the arteries within her wrists and hemorrhaging herself into oblivion is unpardonable. Whilst I do accredit the professed obligation to authentically delineate the harrowing, bone-chilling actualities of suicide, it is feasibly conveyed as a how-to manual. Furthermore—and admittedly, of my own accord—I weathered a sensational anxiety attack in consequence of the segment itself. Whether the staff is culpable for the detrimental sentiments it elicits is subjective, but I do surmise that there is something to be vocalized in reference to it.
Secondly, Dan Reidenberg, the executive director Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), expressed his professional and relational experiences as a result of Thirteen Reasons Why to The Washington Post. Following his indication that he has been a beacon of resource and astuteness to apprehensive parental figures and guidance counselors, he attested that, “There is a great amount of concern in the suicide prevention community around this series.”
Moreover, Reidenberg bespoke his condemnation with respect to Hannah’s audiotapes, emphasizing that the cassettes essentially gild her suicide within prettifying gold. He publicized within his interview that, “Young people are not that great at separating fiction from reality. […] That gets even harder to do when you’re struggling with thoughts.”
Reidenberg, alongside fellow suicide prevention activist MollyKate Cline, additionally denounce Thirteen Reasons Why’s negligence in implicating that there is, in fact, an alternative to suicide, whether it be seeking psychological aid via a therapist or psychiatrist, or merely verbalizing intrusive thoughts to a trustworthy confidant.
Succeeding Hannah’s sexual assault(s), she endeavors into addressing her predicaments with the Liberty High School guidance counselor, Mr. Porter. Howbeit, instead of recommending referrals and/or outlets for mental health treatment, he insinuates that her privacy violations and victimizations are her blame.
Reidenberg disparaged the dialogue between Hannah and Mr. Porter as “sending a horrible message.”
In an op-ed essay for Teen Vogue, Cline analyzes that, “If the idea is to scare people into reaching out to someone when they need help, this show will definitely do it. However, my problem is that the audience is shown what not to do without examples of what they actually should do. In one of the first episodes, we see Clay Jensen, best friend of Hannah, lie to his parents and claim that he wasn’t affected by Hannah’s death because he didn’t really know her. The dad replied, ‘Well OK, keep in touch kid.’ At this point, a disconnect is formed that causes Clay to feel as if he can’t go to his parents from then on because of how awkward and uncomfortable talking about his emotions is with them. This isn’t how we should be taught to reach out for help. We should be watching real-life, sit-down conversations with parents that show how to ask for help surrounding mental illness, bullying, or anything else.”
A personalized interpretation that has been heeded by a miscellany of friends of mine who are survivors of a medley of mental illnesses is that while Hannah did anguish from depression, her understanding of it was situational.
Poet, journalist, and cherished familiar of mine, Kaliane Faye, tweeted a thread recognizing an argument that I myself had not yet distinguished, “Hannah wasn’t clinically depressed. Her depression and suicide was brought on by her abuse. There is a difference between being depressed [and] suicidal [because] of something happening to you and being mentally ill [because] of a mood disorder. The whole focal point of the show is that Hannah was bullied to suicide[, w]hich happens more often than not in public schools. While there are other subplots and stories that are equally triggering, the focus is on how bullying adversely affect teens. The focus is not on actual mental illness and how that affects a person.”
I doubtlessly concur, and I suspect that, unfavorably, Thirteen Reasons Why is prevailing as a generalization and the “pinnacle” of mental health awareness.
Although there is no viable “right way” to be mentally ill, I have witnessed individuals beloved to me suspended unto the cliff of suicide in consequence of a major depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, a harm obsessive compulsive disorder—and Hannah Baker is not that.
Throughout a vehement op-ed article for The Tab, Serena Smith implored the mainstream media to, “Give us a protagonist who physically can’t get out of bed; who ugly cries in the bath every night for months; who suffers with irrational thoughts of self-hatred. Just something – anything – to throw the focus on the day-to-day struggles of someone with a mental illness.”
It is a suggestion from the exposition of Thirteen Reasons Why that Hannah is a blemished primary character with multitudinous shortcomings; howbeit, her unbarring desperation to incriminate her peers for her passing only accentuates mental health stigmatization.
Justin Foley, Bryce Walker—each of Hannah’s (and Jessica Davis’s) sexual abusers and perpetrators throughout the sequence of occurrences warrant grave repercussions for their reprehensible undertakings. Frankly, they deservedly subsist with their blameworthiness not solely for their criminalities, but their maltreatment of Hannah, which were monumentally instrumental in her eventual suicide.
With that established, the remainder of Hannah’s recordings are representative of a perceptible spitefulness—an attribute the lion’s share of suicidal persons are not.
Emily Richardson, a staff writer and colleague at Women’s Republic, bore her grievances throughout a midnight discussion in connection with Thirteen Reasons Why. In a message, she articulated that, “I think the idea of girl sending people tapes blaming them for her suicide is a very ableist thing. […] I know it’s supposed to warn people that [you] don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives[,] so don’t be mean to them[,] but the whole ‘sending people a tape blaming them for your death’ really bothered me[,] too. I also think having it where she sends people tapes makes it seem like she killed herself to spite them[,] which is a really dangerous stigma when it comes to mental health and suicide.”
In addition, broadening across the horizon of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, et cetera, there has been an exponential inflation in the romanticization of suicide as a result of quotations inclusive of an exchange between Clay and Mr. Porter, where a bereaved Clay dolefully utters, “I cost a girl her life because I was too afraid to love her,” of to which Mr. Porter replies, “You can’t love someone back to life,” and a negotiating, “You can try,” from Clay.
Amidst this irrefutable idealization, there have been innumerable accounts ridiculing the subject matter with internet memes, comprised of “welcome to your tape”, where an individual displays a mild inconvenience in contrast to Hannah’s cassette recordings. Another observable “joke” that has stormed Twitter as of the series’ airing is that of the “name a more iconic duo – i’ll wait” meme, featuring Hannah and a razor blade.
In conclusion, while I am mammothly appreciative of the cast, crew, and production staff’s road paved with wholehearted intentions, I am deducing that we can supply sheerly better representations of mental health and suicide prevention awareness for those who need it most.
If you are experiencing a crisis, text CONNECT to 741741 for a “free, confidential, nationwide” conversation with a trained Crisis Text Line counselor.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s hotline may be contacted at 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7 mental and emotional support.
“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.”
— Jenny Lawson; Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things