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Only weeks after its Netflix debut in March 2017, '13 Reasons Why' received backlash from viewers, parents, and professionals about the potential dangers that the show alludes to.
The story itself is focused around the story of Hannah Baker, a young teen who committed suicide and left behind a series of 13 tapes explaining her reasoning. In these tapes Hannah calls out specific people whom she blames for her death.
The show intends to open dialogue about difficult, even taboo topics. It explores multiple social issues such as bullying, sexual assault, self-harm, and suicide, but the show doesn’t receive criticism for tackling these matters. Experts like Greg Marley, the clinical director for the National Alliance of Mental Illness in Maine contends that the show carries the dangers of glorifying suicide.
The topics of suicide and depression are very powerful subjects and must be handled with great amounts of care when being presented in any situation, but care should especially be taken when it is being published to primarily a young teenage audience. According to the CDC, for ages 10-24, suicide is the second leading cause of death, behind unintentional injury/accidents; this age range contains the majority of viewers watching the series. The series addresses the difficult nature of the discussion of suicide but does it in a way that romanticizes it to the audience.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention released a list of eight major components that should be addressed when discussing suicide to an audience. '13 Reasons Why' breaks all of these precautionary rules. Violating these guidelines puts other teens at risk and creates the show as a medium to romanticize and sensationalize the act of suicide. The writers and directors included multiple uncensored rape scenes in addition to Hannah’s graphic suicide. The creators of the show defend their decisions maintaining that those scenes were intended to make people uncomfortable and to show the painful and irreversible consequences of Hannah’s actions. Yet, the writers and producers of the show could have still shown the pain and consequences of Hannah’s decision without giving the audience a “how-to-guide.” The series should have been more explicit in expressing that suicide should never be an option, but instead, in the eyes of Hannah Baker, suicide seemed like the only option.
Selena Gomez, one of the executive producers of the show, explains that the show is not only meant to open up discussions about suicide and depression, but it is also meant to send an overarching message to spread kindness to others. The message of kindness is an important one, but that soon becomes masked by the other aspects of the show. For a show that is about mental health concerns, and more specifically mental illness, it does not effectively explore mental health and essentially portrays Hannah’s suicide as the catalyst for revenge.
After the series was released, Netflix produced a bonus episode entitled '13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons.' The episode includes information on mental health, mental illness, and means for treatment. The issue is that the rest of the show’s episodes, which likely reach a larger audience, do not offer these resources or ways for individuals struggling with mental health to reach out for support. In fact, the episodes do the complete opposite. When Hannah finally gets the courage to talk to her school counselor about her feelings of despair, the counselor dismisses Hannah’s statement that she was raped and fails to identify dangerous behaviors displayed by Hannah. Such shows of incompetence could potentially prevent students from confiding in school counselors.
The fear of asking others for help is heavily portrayed in the film, but that should not become reality. Here on campus, there are organizations like To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the Women’s Center which focus on mental health, mental illnesses, and self-care. It is important for students to have safe spaces like this to talk about difficult things going on in their lives. Clubs like this are also very important when counseling services are not as accessible as they should be.
Boston College Counseling Services has an office in Gasson 001 and is open Monday through Friday from 8:45am to 4:45pm. The only way to make an apportionment is by calling their office at 617-552-3310 or by visiting their office during regular hours. There are no walk-in appointments. Students that are classified as “high risk students” get appointments as quickly as possible, but for “lower risk students” it can take weeks for their first appointment. Another concerning matter about mental health issues on campus is the fact that the BC mental health hotline is not on the back of student ID cards. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are things that should be talked about, but the way in which '13 Reasons Why' addresses these issues is not helpful.
Mental illness is a serious issue and should be discussed—it is not something that should be bottled up. One of the last lines in the show is “things have to get better,” and help is out there for people struggling through difficulties—do not be afraid to reach out. Clubs and counseling are available on BC’s campus. Do not fight your battle alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Boston Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877)870-4673
Boston College Mental Health Emergency: (617) 552-3310