Here is my opinion on the Netflix adaptation of 13 Reasons Why: I think it is important. This maybe not a popular opinion with everyone, but there it is.
There are definite and major triggers in this show; mental illness, sexual and physical assault, suicide. And while I don’t think this is a good show for some people to watch due to their own experiences and mental health, I still think these are important issues that need to be highlighted, in hopes that it assists people in the future.
I will say, I have not read the book, so my thoughts are solely on the TV show and I have no opinion on how it was adapted from the book. And while I know that a lot of people and organisations have slammed 13 Reasons Why for its content or depiction, I thought it was well done in many aspects (but this is not to say that it was perfect and should be free of criticism). This of course is my personal opinion, and everyone will have their own opinion based on their experience (either directly or indirectly) with mental illness, suicide, assault, life experience and personal beliefs.
Firstly let’s talk about the widely spread claim that it glamorises suicide. I hate this term. I really, really do. Suicide isn’t glamorous in any way and I don’t think that anything could make it so. But back to the point, I actually think the show does the opposite. To me it shows that suicide is far from glamorous, it is not the only answer and it highlights that there are so many reasons why one shouldn’t in fact consider suicide. But besides the fact I think it highlights all the reasons why someone shouldn’t consider suicide as an option, I understand the point people are trying to make why they say it glamorises suicide, but “glamour” is the last word I would use. Did you see that scene? (more on that later). There was nothing glamorous about it. It was filled with pain and loneliness and utter despair. It was heartbreaking in the point that it was completely unnecessary for Hannah to be at this point.
Now, that scene. It was graphic, it was intense and it was confronting, but in doing so it showed the pain and horror of the act. There was no sugar coating as so many TV and movie portrayals do. So was it called for? In my opinion, yes. For the point that suicide isn’t a wonderful thing – it is not pretty, lovely or the easy option.
It also showed snippets of the aftermath of suicide. Unless you have experienced the devastation of someone you know committing suicide you cannot truly fathom what it does to family and friends, and this show gives a snippet of that. From the grief, to the unanswered questions, to the guilt that is left behind. These are things that a person who is at their lowest point in their life do not think about (and if they do it is not rationally) and I think this aspect on suicide being touched on is a good thing – it may resonate with someone, and if that saves just one person in the world from feeling that pain, by making one person stop and remember that there are people who care and would grieve them, then it can only be a good thing. People who are at this point often think those they love would be better off without them, and if this makes them rethink that assumption due to previously seeing the pain via this show, then that may help someone change their mind.
This show also highlights and starts a conversation about mental illness. Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, and it certainly doesn’t discriminate. It opens up the conversion; it shows some warning signs – something that can only lead to good things. It opens up the conversion for those suffering with a mental illness, for family and friends who are concerned about someone and for those who are worried that they or someone they love are at beginning of a slope that they will help navigating.
Mental illness does not have to start as something big; it could be as simple as a few sad days, a feeling of loneliness or isolation, feeling that there is no one to talk to. And this show highlights the need to talk to people and to get help before it all becomes too much.
And while sitting here I can see so many reasons why Hannah shouldn’t have killed herself, but I am not in Hannah’s situation. I can see that she misconstrued some things, got some things wrong and even over reacted about some things, but that’s all well and good for someone looking in from the outside. Should she have spoken to someone? Hells yes! But it isn’t always that easy. Things compound on top of everything and it all gets so twisted and too much. That’s the point – logic doesn’t come into play in every situation. And that is something that hopefully someone else will take away from this show.
And what I thought was great about the show was how it showed how some actions or comments that seemed so harmless where so very harmful. You never know what is happening in someone else’s life, and what seems like a little thing to you may be a massive thing to someone who has had a million other little things in their life. Bullying may not seem dangerous, or even intentional, but it is not the intent that matters, it is the impact. Never assume that what you don’t think is a big deal is not catastrophic to someone else.
Some people feel it is dangerous as it could encourage someone to commit suicide, but I feel it is more likely to save a life. I am not saying that there aren’t people out there that might see it as encouraging suicide; I am just saying that I think this show will do more good than harm. I think that due to the subject matters in this show it may seem more compounded as the whole show revolves around suicide, but when you break it down into the actual harmful aspects, I don’t think there is anything encouraging or harmful in this show that cannot be found in TV shows, movies or any other media available. This is just a condensed and extended version. But I personally only saw the opposite, I saw the helpful messages of the show, and I hope a majority of others are the same. I saw how a person could have reached out for help but didn’t, I see people missed signs that they should have taken note of and offered support and an ear, I see a person who held things in so tight that they altered reality in their own mind, I see an example how the littlest and innocent actions can cause harm, I see how looking at someone else’s experiences through their eyes could help save someone.
This story was always going to end (well begin really) with Hannah committing suicide. It was stated right from the beginning. She was never going to get the help she so desperately needed. Nothing was saving this teenage girl from doing something so devastating – this was never the story-line. What this show gave examples of is how this character was failed at every turn, either through fear, ignorance or arrogance. The options available for help were never going to be a part of this story – because they were either not available to this character or they were going to be ignored or fail. This story was never about all the great things out there to assist someone – this was about the fact that there needs to be more to help our most vulnerable. Do I think the networks could have given more warnings and helpline numbers? Yes. Do I think that parents should watch this with their children rather than letting them watch it on their own? Yes. This show provides a great opportunity for parents to be more involved and open up conversations with their children, the very teenagers who are watching and don’t necessarily know how to open up to their parents.
I didn’t see this show glamouring or romanticising suicide. I know some people disagree, and all I can say to that is that I watched this show from another perspective, through other glasses, from another stand point. But no matter what our opinions are, I think we can all agree that there is nothing glamorous or romantic about suicide.
This show is certainly not for everyone, and I can understand and respect that. But at the end of the day, I personally think it is far better outcome to produce a show that is negatively viewed by some than to gloss over it. After all, how many shows or movies have you seen that contains suicide, but it has left no impact and you shrug it off? How many times have you talked, or witnessed the conversion, about suicide after another show or movie? For me, it hasn’t been many, and for those that have been talked about, it has never been to the level that was a result of this show. Is it not better to show something that has an impact and opens up this conversation? I have never heard of another depiction of suicide that was talked about so much; amongst friends, families, schools and media. And even if you don’t like how the content was portrayed, the fact it has opened up the conversation so widely is a great benefit to any person who is currently, or will in the future, suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts.
Suicide rates are at the highest they have ever been. This is a fact that we as a society cannot continue to ignore. We need to TALK about it, we need parents to talk to their children and understand warning signs, we need people (especially teens) to feel that it is okay to talk about their feelings, thoughts and mental health issues. We needed something to open up this conversation so widely.
But no matter if you thought this show was too much, perfectly done, too glamorised, or anything in between, take away one thing from this show: look out of each other and do not be afraid to offer or ask for help. And for those who need it, help is always available. It may not come from the closest person to you, or from the first person you ask, but do not give up, it is available.
If you need to talk to someone help is always available. I have listed some numbers below, but if your country is not listed please google resources in your local area, speak to your health care provider or call emergency services for emergency assistance.
Australia: Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
UK: Childline: 0800 1111
US: Teen Line: 310 855 4673