By now you’ve probably heard of Netflix’s controversial teen drama 13 Reasons Why. The show, based on the 2007 YA novel by the same name, tells the story of high schooler Hannah through a series of thirteen tapes she left behind after committing suicide. Various facets of the internet have both celebrated and criticized the show for different (and sometimes the same) reasons, but I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should watch the show. I only want to give you a heads up about some stuff in case you’re on the fence. Spoilers ahead.
1. It can be triggering if you’ve ever had a history of self-harm or suicidal thoughts
There are a lot of think pieces out there about this, so I’ll be brief. Many people have lauded 13 Reasons Why for its relatable content, but therein lies the problem. Because many of us have gone through similar experiences to the situations presented in the show, it can bring up a lot of sh*tty feelings and bad memories. For some people, that’s just going to result in being uncomfortable. For others, it could be a full blown panic attack or depressive episode.
2. People have accused the show of glorifying suicide
Young people can be impressionable, whether we like to admit it or not. It’s easy to get distracted by how something is packaged. With the right production quality, most things can be made to look glamorous or cool. Death and suicide are often made to look much more appealing than they actually are, especially in music or TV and film.
3. The show never mentions mental illness or depression
While it might be obvious to some that Hannah starts dealing with some pretty heavy depression, the show makes no mention of depression or mental illness. Nor does it really go into how therapy can be an option. At one point, Hannah goes to a school counselor who offers her tissues instead of actual resources to help with what she’s going through.
4. The sexual assaults are depicted pretty graphically
Sexual assault in its various forms has become so prevalent in media that most of us are desensitized to it. Many of those scenes are either heavily alluded to or shown for a few seconds before cutting away. The sexual assault scenes in 13 Reasons Why are graphic and go on for an uncomfortably long time. This can be disturbing for some viewers.
5. It perpetuates the idea that suicide has someone to blame
Bullying and sexual assault absolutely affect mental health, but to paint a linear path from bullying to suicide oversimplifies the problem. Suicide is a complex issue that requires a nuanced discussion. It’s disingenuous to portray a suicidal person as using their suicide to punish the people around them.
6. Even knowing someone who struggled with self-harm could make this show hard to watch
There are plenty of warnings online about how viewers with a history of self-harm and suicidal tendencies can over identify with Hannah, but if you’ve ever been close to someone who self-harmed or lost someone to suicide, you can get caught up in reliving those emotions vicariously.
7. Everyone in the show seems more taken by the drama surrounding Hannah’s suicide than her actual suicide
I went to a high school with a pretty high suicide rate. We were right along the train tracks and that’s how a lot of kids chose to die. Whenever news broke that someone committed suicide, we grieved. Counselors and at-risk specialists were made available to us to talk whenever we needed. We focused on pain and the healing process. In 13 Reasons Why, the surrounding characters and the school come off as being more concerned with the drama of Hannah’s suicide (like the tapes) than the actual tragedy of her death.
8. It presents suicide as a resolution
By using the tapes, Hannah is telling her story in a way that makes her suicide seem like a resolution. That’s not reality. When people die by suicide, that’s it. It’s final. Many people don’t seem to understand the finality of death, regardless of personal belief systems. The show’s use of this device can mislead audiences into believing that suicide is a viable and satisfying option.
9. It presents suicide as an entertaining puzzle
On the other side of the think pieces and criticisms is the fan aspect. Maybe you’ve seen the memes or the shipping or the obsessive fan theories. While the creative team behind the show has insisted that the point of the show is to bring awareness, many have criticized it for using teen suicide as a source of entertainment at the end of the day. It doesn’t help that the show was renewed for a second season.
10. It’s already inspired copycats
Suicide contagion is the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors (whether in social groups like friends and family or media) that leads to an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors. This is very real and well documented. Consequently, in the wake of 13 Reasons Why, there have already been cases of students self-harming and citing the show, as well as unofficial reports from mental health professionals regarding patients who relapsed in self-harm and suicidal behavior after watching the show.
11. The show was initially presented with few trigger warnings
When the show first premiered on Netflix, only episodes nine, twelve, and thirteen had warnings at the start of the episode. While Netflix has since issued a statement and implemented more trigger warnings, many people found this to be fairly irresponsible.
12. There is no positive modeling in a completely issue-based show
Suicide, self-harm, and self-destructive behavior are the only solutions presented for teens in the show. Most of the adults are too self-involved or absent to see what’s going on with the kids around them. While it’s important to bring awareness to these issues and what not to do, it isn’t productive to do just that and not show what we should do.
13. It disregards the guidelines on responsible reporting on suicide
Hannah’s suicide isn’t a grand plot twist that shocks us somewhere towards the end of the series. We all know it happens. But 13 Reasons Why shows us exactly how it happens. It’s a graphic and detailed portrayal which some have called a “how to” and is in direct violation of research conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other organizations. They’ve found 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 death.”
For help battling anything you are dealing with, especially suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicide.org.