13 Reasons Why Poorly Represents Mental Health and Suicide (Spoilers)

13 Reasons Why is the Netflix teen drama series that aired at all once on March 31, 2017, based on a 2007 novel by Jay Asher. It’s about Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a high-school girl that took her own life and the 13 reasons why she did it. The story takes place over 13 episodes each one outlining a reason why she killed herself. Hannah recorded herself explaining these reasons through cassette tapes which are sent out to the people she believed were responsible for her suicide. One such person was her friend and the show’s protagonist, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette).

Like a lot of people I was very keen to watch this show, and again like a lot of people I couldn’t help but notice the huge flaws it had.

First of all, I think the premise is interesting and unique if nothing else. And it was well acted even if the characters were mostly dislikable and frustrating. I quite like Dylan Minnette as an actor and I feel he was the right look and demeanour for the character of Clay. I’m not familiar with Katherine Langford but judging from her performance, I think she’s talented and I would like to see more of her in the future.

 

The main problem of 13 Reasons Why is the portrayal of mental illness or lack thereof. Hannah’s reasons for her suicide lie in being bullied, betrayed and raped. These are very serious issues and it is obvious they are causing her mental health to suffer a downward spiral leading to severe depression. Yet, this is never actually addressed in the show and that is a big mistake. The chain of events she describes and how they led to her death is missing this important link. Mental health is a much talked about subject these days and it is important that it is represented in the right way. 13 Reasons Why fails because it doesn’t actually mention it at all. While Hannah is shown to be suicidal near the end of the show that still doesn’t connect with the issue correctly. There is a difference between having depression and ending your life. The two don’t automatically go hand in hand.

The second flaw is the representation of suicide itself and the show received a lot of backlash for this. The scene where Hannah gets in the bath full of water and slices open her wrists is graphic and very difficult to watch. There is no editing to soften the impact and the show was harshly criticised for the starkness of the scene.  The show’s producers have defended it saying they wanted to show the brutality of suicide and how it is not the answer to one’s problems which is a good intention but the show does the complete opposite of that. Not only does it present suicide as being the best solution to your problems it also makes it look like a great way to get revenge on those you hold responsible for your suffering. It does this through Hannah’s tapes. The people on those tapes suffer because of what she says on them and because they’re terrified of other people finding out about what they did. Some of them didn’t do anything incredibly awful like Clay who Hannah says doesn’t really deserve to be on the tapes but is still part of the thread. Other people mentioned on the tapes, like Bryce and Justin, did do horrible things. The point is Hannah made the choice to end her life because she thought it was the only solution she had but she did it herself. What the others did and said lead her to her mental turmoil which led to her demise but as I’ve said, this link is missing.

So overall 13 Reasons Why is a decent drama- mystery series but considering what its intended message was supposed to be it should be so much better.

 

 

 

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