Ok, people. Put your pens down, take your headphones out, pause the conversation. It’s time we talk about the show that has gripped mainstream media for the last several weeks, and yes, I am talking about the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why.”
Before you look at this and click away thinking this is some kind of rant about the show, it is important to note that there are two very different sides to the show. The first side is the entertainment side. Every TV show has one primary goal: to entertain its audience, and “13 Reasons Why” is no exception. In this light, the show is a massive success (for goodness sake I can’t check Facebook once without seeing someone’s opinion or some article plastered on the page).
But, then there’s the second side to the show, the side that has everyone talking. This is the side that focuses on suicide and suicide prevention/education, and this is the side that did not succeed in the way it should have.
Think about it. The entire show focused on the idea of ‘blame.’ Hannah Baker, the suicide victim the show in centered around, literally made tapes telling people what role they played in her suicide. In reality, suicide is a much more complex series of events than a simple blame game, and the entire idea of its complexity is glossed over through the entire series. This lack of complexity is indirectly perpetuating the idea that suicide is revenge for those who have wronged you, and the tapes are Hannah’s way of getting this revenge.
Aside from the act of suicide itself, “13 Reasons Why” simply does not depict the warning signs of such actions. The producers were given a rare and amazing opportunity to show what kinds of pain a suicidal person may be going through, and how the actions of those around them can either prevent or perpetuate these feelings. Instead, they glazed over many of the key warning signs of suicide. Where are the tears at night? What about the lack of interest in school or activities? And how about the suffering relationships in a victim’s life? In reality, 4 in 5 teens who have attempted suicide have shown clear warning signs (according to The Jason Foundation). Suicide does not just ‘happen,’ it’s something that’s built up over time, whether it be through depression, anxiety, abuse, or trauma.
But why is any of this relevant? It is just a TV show, after all. It can’t really be this deep.
To put it in context. roughly 5,240 young adults attempt suicide each day in the United States. EACH DAY. Suicide is the cause of more teen and young adult deaths than “cancer, heart disease, AIDS, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined” (according to the Jason Foundation). That’s 5,240 lives that could be saved if the world was educated on suicide in the right way, and this includes the way suicide is portrayed in the media.
It’s not cute, it’s not romantic. “13 Reasons Why” should in no way be your inspiration for your prom-posal or next viral tweet. It’s the story of a girl who felt the only way she could be heard was by taking her own life, leaving those around her not only distraught, but guilty. This is a girl who felt she had to shove her feelings and problems so far down that they were made invisible, only being brought to the light when time had run out. This is the story of a girl that speaks for a population of thousands of other young adults who felt they also had only one way out.
Suicide is a very real epidemic, and it’s one that we need to spend time on. We need to learn what to look for and how to react, and while many people are turning to “13 Reasons Why” for guidance, we need to remember it is a show designed for entertainment purposes only. Use it to spark the conversation, but do not use it to guide your conversation.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or actions, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Available 24 hours a day.
For more specialized help via hotlines, search https://psychcentral.com/lib/telephone-hotlines-and-help-lines/ to find one that fits your needs. Do not be afraid to call, even if you think you don’t need it.
What is your opinion of 13 Reasons Why and the message? Share in the comments below.
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Truman State '20 Nursing major with a passion for writing • kcmo born and raised