There’s a viral series doing the rounds at the moment, and if you’re reading this then you have probably at least heard of it.
13 Reasons Why is a Netflix series about the life and suicide of a girl (Hannah) and the effects it has on her friends, family and peers. There’s a bit more too it but I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it. That’s the jist of the show.
Now, as you’d expect with a show with such intense topics, there’s been a bit of discussion about whether the show is appropriate or not. Whether it should be viewed and whether what’s shown goes too far.
For me, it was a hard watch, but very interesting. With the amount of people (not just youth) who go through with suicide or have thoughts of suicide, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been affected by it in some way. I feel it’s a hugely important series and it matters for so many reasons.
1: It shows that we see the world differently
“Things get better, or worse, depending on your point of view.”
Hannah records and leaves tapes explaining why she chose to end her life. She instructs the people in these tapes to listen and then pass them on to the next person. It becomes clear that many of the people who’ve listened to the tapes believe Hannah is lying; that things didn’t happen the way that she said. Maybe events didn’t unfold exactly how she describes, but that doesn’t mean that isn’t how she saw them. It’s mentioned that Hannah’s truth might not be the same as the others truth but that doesn’t make it a lie. Her truth matters because it affects her and shapes her.
If we can learn to accept that others have different ways of looking at the world, maybe it wouldn’t be such a big, lonely place.
2: It touches on warning signs
All throughout the show, warning signs are mentioned. And although it is just a show those warning signs are real. They are the real life signs to watch out for so you can help someone who might need it. Things like, giving away possessions, withdrawing, getting things in order. That’s not to say that everyone who spring cleans their room or house has suicidal thoughts, but its a great idea to be aware of these signs, because more often than not, someone who is thinking of ending their life, will exhibit a few of these and if we are aware of them, perhaps we will be able to intervene sooner rather than reacting later.
3: It shows how something small might be something big.
“I guess that’s the point of it all: No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue”
This series is quite good at showcasing just how much a seemingly insignificant comment or action can impact someone in a big way. Not just for Hannah, but for the other characters too.
4: It explains the thought process behind suicide.
Hannah doesn’t want to die. She says this outright. And she explains to her counsellor that she just wants everything to stop. That’s it in a nutshell apparently. Experts tell us that a person who has suicidal thoughts doesn’t want to die. They just want it to stop. Whatever “it” is. Pain, guilt, sadness, anger. Whatever they feel that drags them into that dark and lonely place, they want it to stop. And for them, they see no other way.
For someone who has never been there, it’s an ufamiliar and, some would say, silly concept. But to those that suffer with these thoughts, I can imagine it’s very real and hugely difficult to deal with. You don’t have to be able to relate to these feelings, but to help someone who is already in that place, you at least need to be able to understand what they might feel. You don’t have to agree, but you must always listen carefully.
5: It deals with rape
“How can you blame someone for something that happens while they’re unconscious?”
This is a biggie. I feel like the show has done an amazing job at highlighting the issues in our society around this topic.
There are two characters who deal with rape and they are assaulted under completely different, almost opposite contexts. They deal with the fallout and we see what happens when one character decides to ask for help. She’s told to come forward and give the attacker up, or move on and get over it.
Again, never been in this position myself (Thank Goodness!) But imagine this happened to you. You work up the courage to come forward and tell someone and all that person does is brush it off and tell you to get over it. They question and interrogate you like you are the one in the wrong. There is a reason that an estimated 90% of sexual abuse crimes aren’t reported.
6: It teaches us to always take someone seriously.
“A lot of you cared, none of you cared enough.”
Almost every character in 13 Reasons Why had a chance to save Hannah from herself. She wrote a letter explaining her feelings. She left a note for her teacher to read to the class and she went to the school counsellor. If just one of the characters stepped up and cared a little bit more maybe Hannah’s outcome would have been different.
That doesn’t mean that it’s anyone’s fault, but I feel like lots of people brush these things off. They think, “She’s not being serious” or “She wants attention.” And maybe some people aren’t serious and maybe they do just want attention; But what if they are serious? You can’t know what’s in another persons head. Always take them seriously.
7: It shows the devastating effects suicide has on everyone.
“Unlike old age or cancer, no one anticipates a suicide.”
Speaking from experience, the death of a loved one by suicide hits you like a tonne of bricks. There is nothing in the world that can prepare you for it and there are no words that comfort you.
13 Reason’s Why shows us the different ways that different people react. These characters have different relationships with Hannah and varying degrees of closeness with her.
It’s a very real portrayal of how much a person matters and how much of an impact they can have on so many different lives.
8: It explains that sometimes, there isn’t a big reason.
“In the end, everything matters.”
Sometimes its lots of little things that build into a huge thing. Like rain. Lots of little raindrops, but if it rains long enough, it will flood.
9: It explains that sometimes, the signs are hard to see.
And sometimes, there aren’t any. Unless you are looking for them, they’re hard to spot. Unfortunately, you can’t be with a person 24/7, and in the end, people see what they wanna see anyway.
10: It’s a reminder that we don’t always know what’s going on in each others lives.
As a viewer we get a look into all of the characters lives. Not many of the characters get to look into each others lives though.
Justin, getting abused at home by his mother’s drug addict boyfriend.
Alex, with his strict police officer father and high expectations.
Hannah and her parents, struggling with their store.
Clay, on medication for anxiety.
You get the picture.
“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own.”
11: It shows us that having mental health services available isn’t enough.
This is an important one. You can promote the services available for people in Hannah’s situation all you like but unless that person chooses to use them, what good are they?
We need to be aware. When I say we, I mean all of us. We don’t need to be professionals, but we need to know enough that we can recognise when we or someone else needs help.
12: It ends leaving the viewers with a similar sense of “what now?”
The show ends with many loose ends. The viewer is left thinking “is that it?!” Of everything that this show does, this is my favorite by far because that is exactly how you are left to feel when someone you love goes out this way. You don’t get an explanation, you don’t get to know what happens next. Their life just finishes and that’s it. You spend the rest of yours wondering. Not knowing. You want answers more than anything but the person who can give them to you, isn’t there.
13: It brings suicide to the forefront
Gets people talking about it. Even if it is to criticise the series. People are still talking, still hearing and still watching.
What 13 Reasons Why got wrong
I understand that it’s a show and not an educational story about teen suicide, but nevertheless, people will watch and take away from it as they always do.
Although this is so, so, so accurate, I don’t like how the series is centred around the blame game. I know that when something like this happens, you think of everything you could have done to stop it, everything you might have done to cause it and everything everyone else did or didn’t do.
What I don’t like about the show is that Hannah places blame. The other characters blame themselves and others as well, but Hannah, in most cases puts the blame on them.
Now these other characters may have played a part in causing Hannah to feel alone, abandoned, ashamed and hurt, but they didn’t cause her to die. Hannah chose that. It was her choice. This is mentioned a few times throughout the series, but not by Hannah and blaming others for a choice that was your own isn’t right.
Mike King is a New Zealander who is known for his work in the mental health industry and in particular suicide awareness. He has said (see the video here) there are only three reasons why a person chooses to end their life and I think it can sometimes be a combination of the three;
- I’m in pain (I’m hurting)
- I’m causing pain (I’m a burden)
- I want to cause pain
If these reasons are true, then the blame shouldn’t lie with anyone other than Hannah and the show doesn’t really portray that.
Yes, be aware of how you treat someone. Yes, be mindful of how they respond to you and Yes, be a decent human being and perhaps you can help influence the way someone sees the world and themselves. But no, it’s not your fault that someone chose that. That was their choice to make and there are other choices out there.
13 Reasons Why is hard-hitting. It deals with major issues and clearly stirs the old emotional pot more than a little, but this series is long overdue. It is needed in today’s society, for today’s generation. Perhaps we can all learn from it. Learn to understand, to take a look in the mirror and at the people standing next to and around us. To give them strength or to ask for strength to make a different choice. A better one for ourselves and our loved ones.
Where to get help:
- Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
- Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
- Youthline:0800 376 633
- Kidsline:0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
- Whatsup:0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
- Depression helpline:0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
- Rainbow Youth:(09) 376 4155
- Samaritans: 0800 726 666
- If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.