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13 Reasons Why and Why It's Not a Correct Representation of Mental Health Struggles

tw: suicide

13 Reasons Why is well-known to be a show that inaccurately portrays mental illnesses, receiving many criticisms from fans and critics alike. But why and how exactly is the show so inaccurate? And with all this criticism, has Netflix tried to improve the next season?


This chart-topping series, 13 Reasons Why, is based on the best-selling book by Jay Asher, telling a story through cassette tapes made by Hannah Baker. She tragically committed sucide 2 weeks before her friend Clay Jensen received the tapes. On tape, Hannah unfolds an emotional audio diary, detailing the thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life.


Consequences


In April 2017, two 15 year old girls Bella Herndon and Priscilla Chiu both committed suicide just a few days after watching 13 Reasons Why. Of course, we don’t know if there are any direct correlations between the two girls and the series. But among all US youth ages, suicidal rates increased by close to 30% the same month Herndon and Chiu committed suicide — the month following the release of 13 Reasons Why.


“I feel it's dangerous for that small percentage of young adults who the show can become a trigger for them," Chiu’s uncle said "I feel as if the show gives only one alternative for cyberbullying and other teenage issues." -- which is committing suicide.

Inaccurate representation of suicide


In the series, there are 13 reasons why Hannah Baker committed suicide. She recorded 13 tapes, each addressed to a person who contributed to one of the reasons. This implies that Hannah’s motivation for suicide is revenge. The series made it seem like Hannah wanted other people to feel as much pain as she did, instead of really wanting to end her life. This is a completely wrong depiction of how suicide really works. People don’t kill themselves because they want to seek revenge.


Unlike Bojack Horseman or Spinning Out, 13 Reasons Why inaccurately portrays the thoughts and actions of a suicidal person.

John Ackerman, a coordinator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, says that the way Hannah responds to these individuals who caused her harm, promotes a misconception that suicidal behavior is selfish.


Committing suicide is not a selfish act. In the mind of the one who takes their own life, it’s the other way around. Selfish is defined as “lacking consideration towards other people for one's own personal profit or pleasure” by Oxford Languages.


A suicidal person never commits suicide because of their own pleasure. People who commit suicide feel like they are too much of a burden to still deserve a place in this world. Making others feel guilty normally never comes up in a suicidal person’s mind.


Inaccurate Representation of Seeking Help


13 Reasons Why never did encourage their audience to seek help from parents, teachers or counselors until the last episode of the second season. Baker spent most of her time in school being bullied and being raped, and the only solution she landed on was to escape this unbearable pain by ending her life. The adults in this series were practically useless throughout the first season. When adults tried to talk to Baker, they were distracted and also did not believe her whenever she said something had happened to her. It’s not like this in the real world. Adults don’t shut people out and normally try their best to help a student in need. 13 Reasons Why paints a picture of adults worsening a child’s mental health and sends a message to their audience that there is no way out of this “bad” life except for committing suicide.


Did Netflix Improve?

After an overwhelming amount of criticism due to this issue, the vice president of original series at Netflix promised that season two will involve the school counsellor realizing his past mistakes and completely changing his mindset into one that is willing to help his students and is determined to reach out to students in need. They followed through with the promise, and began season 2 with the actors stepping into the spotlight and encouraging teenagers to always seek help when in need.


Conclusion


13 Reasons Why, despite the faults, is a huge step towards bringing mental health into the spotlight. Although we do not agree with everything that Netflix has done for season one, we see drastic improvement in season two, as we dive a little deeper into how each character evolved, how they sought for help, and how rape or violence can either cause or stem from mental illnesses. In season two, we are able to get a glimpse of difficult mental health issues and it does show off how Netflix is willing to step out of their comfort zone to promote something that has been such a big stigma the past few years. 13 Reasons Why is a good way to start promoting the issues surrounding mental illnesses because every action done by the characters in this series is for everyone to see. We start to understand why gun violence stems from mental health struggles and we start to understand why teenagers could suffer from substance abuse.


The main goal of 13 Reasons Why is to bring in more awareness for both teenagers and adults to do their part and speak up, and it definitely did that.


Seek Help


With all that being said, if you are struggling with your own mental health, please speak up and make your voice heard. As Hannah Baker said,


“The minute you start talking about it, it gets easier”.

Unlike the adults in season one of 13 Reasons Why, adults will always want you to be the best versions of yourselves and will always do whatever they can to help.

If needed, please go to this link. It is our mental health resources page, which includes resources for you to deal with mental illness yourself, and how to help people suffering from mental illnesses first hand.


Sources:


"Here's What 7 Mental Health Experts Really Think About '13 ...." 9 May. 2018, https://www.self.com/story/13-reasons-why-season-two-mental-health-experts-commentary.


"Clueless Adults And Glamorized Pain: '13 Reasons Why ... - WBUR." 27 Apr. 2017, https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2017/04/27/suicide-13-reasons-why-nancy-rappaport.


"CS5: 13 Reasons Why: Romanticizing Mental Illness in Media ...." 24 Dec. 2020, https://revivementalhealth.org/2020/12/24/cs5-13-reasons-why-romanticizing-mental-illness-in-media/.


"'13 Reasons Why' Graphic Finale Faces Criticism - Us Weekly." 21 May. 2018, https://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/13-reasons-why-graphic-finale-faces-criticism/.


Researcher + Editor: Hailey Wong, Thumbnail + Text Transcription: Megan Kwok


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