How “13 Reasons Why” missed the mark on suicide prevention

“13 Reasons Why” has captured the hearts and minds of young people around the nation and sparked serious conversation about the realities of teen suicide and the act of suicide in general. Since it first became popular, however, it has faced a lot of backlash from mental health professionals about the way it portrays the very real and very heartbreaking act of teen suicide.

The show for the most part follows the typical conventions of modern Young Adult literature (as the show was based off of a novel of the same name) and centers on the stereotypically brooding Clay Jensen and how he deals with the suicide of his friend and former co-worker, Hannah Baker.

The process is complicated further when he learns that Hannah left 13 cassette tapes outlining the aforementioned 13 reasons why she killed herself. The show is told via Clay’s actions in the present and copious flashbacks showing Hannah’s point of view.

Hannah and Clay are likeable enough characters — but perhaps maybe too likeable. As a sophomore in high school, my life and the lives of my peers were centered around making it through classes and playing video games afterwards rather than going to the teenage bacchanals that often serve as the setting for many of the show’s more grisly events.

Hannah and Clay also seemed like much more developed and articulate people than I remember being at their age. A lot of beliefs about the world I have now weren’t even thoughts in my head during my sophomore year of high school.

I feel that these character flaws can be excused, as the show only uses these characters as its vessel to make its main point: suicide is a tragic and entirely avoidable act. This is a noble point to make and one that has sparked a conversation about suicide on a national scale.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe the show tackles the issue in a positive way.

It has been said that she show “glorifies suicide,” and I’m inclined to agree. I don’t for a second believe it was intentional, but as the old saying goes: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Through Hannah’s suicide, she gains the power and voice she did not possess in her life. Finally, through the tapes, people will listen to her, and she can make them understand her point of view. This sends a dangerous message—that suicide can be used as a tool to gain power not afforded to suicidal teenagers in life.

Issues such as depression, PTSD and others may very well have been present in the psyche of Hannah Baker, but these are never discussed to any real extent. Instead, the show focuses on the hammy dramatic teen dialogue such as the line, “You can’t love someone back to life.”

Bullying is usually only one of many factors that can lead to suicide and is rarely the only reason people will commit suicide. Further, the show takes a very unrealistic look at the aftermath of Hannah’s suicide. In many cases, loved ones often do not receive a suicide note—let alone 13 tapes that outline the exact reasons why one would choose to end his or her life.

Actor Katherine Langford, like the rest of us, will go to sleep tonight and continue on in life. Her character Hannah Baker, however, will not.

“13 Reasons Why” sparked an important conversation about a grim topic that is rarely discussed. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the show did so in a constructive way that would benefit people who struggle with thoughts like this on a daily basis. There are a multitude of ways Hannah could’ve gotten help that the show never discussed, and that’s exactly where the show, and the story at large, really missed the mark.

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