Reasons to avoid “Thirteen Reasons Why”: the disastrous effects one show created to millions who suffer worldwide

Delaney Sizemore

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By Delaney Sizemore

 

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

In addition, this story contains episode spoilers and episode-by-episode trigger warnings for those who want to watch.

Everyone is talking about Hannah Baker again, but is this a good thing?

The cover of Jay Asher’s 2012 novel. Photo provided by Barnes and Noble.

Netflix’s new series, “Thirteen Reasons Why”, has gained a lot of media attention since its release, both positive and negative.

Based on the novel by Jay Asher, “Thirteen Reasons Why” follows high school sophomore Clay Jensen when he receives a mysterious box of 13 tapes on his doorstep one afternoon, only to find a suicide note inside from a late classmate, Hannah Baker.

As an avid reader, I came across the novel several years prior and was ecstatic to hear Netflix was going to produce a book-to-show adaptation. I started and finished the show the first day Netflix released the episodes.

Needless to say, that was a bad idea.

The themes talked about in this show are obviously very important: bullying beyond the school censored presentations, high school promiscuity, and isolation as a result of depression, to name a few. However, the way these topics were addressed in the show expressed false views about mental health and are resulting in a damaging aftermath.

To clarify, this is not a review of the show, but my commentary on the negative content of the show. (To read a review of the show, read Hannah Hennessy’s story on the positive outcomes of “Thirteen Reasons Why”).

Netflix released a statement, claiming that the show was intended to start “a dialogue” about teenage mental issues. While this is arguably true, professionals seem to disagree.

National Association of School Psychologists spokesman Katherine C. Cowan said, “You don’t provide a how-to manual on how to commit suicide a certain way, and this show does. They wanted to make it an honest depiction, but they ended up dramatizing it and doing things like having the character… make it a revenge suicide. That’s a bad thing to reinforce. There’s no such thing as a successful revenge suicide.”

And many more people nationwide have expressed concern about the danger of the show.

Parents have come out on social media, warning other guardians of teens to keep notice of the children’s behavior; school administrators have warned parents to find out if their child is watching the show and have strongly advised against students watching it.

A widespread reaction as strong as this should raise red flags in everyone’s mind, at the very least.  

Additionally, the way Netflix has showed Baker’s television suicide is depicted as vengeful and romantic – two very contradictory adjectives for suicide.

As the show concludes and Jensen realizes the weight of what is on the tapes, it begins to take a toll on his health, too. In response to school counselor Kevin Porter informing Jensen that “You cannot love someone back to life,” Jensen replies, “You can try.”

To be very clear: Jensen could not have saved Baker from suicide.

No one can save you from suicide, depression or any other mental illness, just as friends and family members cannot cure you of physical illness.

The teen response to Baker’s suicide as being tragically beautiful and that her struggle with depression made her uniquely distant is disgustingly ableist and continues to spread the harmful stigma about mental disability.

There have even been claims online circulating that producers of the show met with mental health professionals to get advice on how to handle the situation, and when receiving answers ignored the guidelines to follow. Whether or not this is true has not been confirmed however, these accusations have been very harmful to the show’s image.

Perhaps the worst outcome of this show has been the result of Baker’s final tape, her 13th reason.      

Dedicated to her high school counselor Kevin Porter, this tape is what Baker quotes as her effort to “giving life one last chance.”

Original trigger warning before certain episodes of the show. Photo provided by Indie Wire.

In this tape, Baker meets with Porter to seek help – all the while recording their conversation. 

Baker reveals personal information to Porter in this meeting, including that she was raped and has been sexually assaulted various times, has been bullied, and is having a hard time being happy.

Responding to Baker’s cry for help, he asks her (in response to her rape) if perhaps she wanted it to happen but changed her mind; obviously upsetting Hannah and suggesting that it was her fault the event had taken place.

Additionally, he adds that Baker has friends all around her and that she should not be lonely, and that if she wanted his help, she needs to reveal more information about what is happening. Essentially saying “if you do not tell me more, there is nothing I can do to help you and that is not my fault.”

Storming out of the room, Baker decides that she is going through with her suicide plan.

In this scene, viewers are easily able to tell how little the adults in Baker’s life noticed her signs of depression and how little they cared.

And while living with an illness that tells you so, this is not the reality. As seen from the professional media response, your guidance counselors and your parents and your doctors do care.

While the show’s original intention may have been to express the invalidity of these thoughts, they have instead turned a teenage girl’s suicide into a joke; something the uninformed media can praise and label Baker as being a dramatic dead girl, while allowing rude teenagers to make memes out of suicide all the while claiming to care about the issue (as seen in the image, left).

One of many offensive photos being posted online. Image credit provided in the photo.

The acceptance of rape culture, bullying as a result of drama, and in the fictional world of Liberty High School, should have resulted in a spark of important conversation, and has instead caused these situations to project themselves outwardly.

While each episode has a warning before (and Netflix has recently gone back and added more specific trigger warnings), I was not at all prepared for the images that were shown. Below are some more in-depth trigger warnings for each episode

Episode 3 (Alex): sexual assault and harassment, vomiting

Episode 5 (Courtney): graphic depiction of blood and scars

Episode 6 (Marcus): sexual assault

Episode 7 (Zach): graphic scars and lots of blood

Episode 9 (Justin Part 2): Very graphic rape scene shown multiple times throughout the episode.

Episode 11 (Clay): Near suicide attempt, self harm scars, talk of suicidal thoughts.

Episode 12 (Bryce): Graphic and in-depth scene of rape, rape mention and aftermath addressed.
Episode 13 (Mr. Porter): Very graphic rape and suicide scenes. I cannot stress the importance of taking care of yourself and knowing your limits, there is a lot of blood.

 

Featured photo provided by The Odyssey Online

 

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Reasons to avoid “Thirteen Reasons Why”: the disastrous effects one show created to millions who suffer worldwide