So you are about to read a blog post I wrote for a website called Mind Your Way. I work closely with the organisation who run this website, I will link the website at the bottom.
Some of you may have spent the summer bingeing on the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’. This is a series which tells the story of Hannah Baker, a teenager attending high school who takes her own life. The story is told through a series of 13 tapes she left behind for people she blames for driving her to this act.I have experienced my own difficulties with my mental health and for me, watching the show brought up lots of difficult feelings and memories, and I’m sure I am not the only one … It also made me angry as it shows a very graphic, unbalanced and unrealistic view of suicide and depression, which risks increasing the stigma and stereotypes around young people’s mental health, so I felt I needed to speak out.Here are my 14 reasons why not to watch this series! Or at least if you do, then to see it for the fictional drama it is, rather than an accurate portrayal of suicide and depression …
- Firstly, the show has an 18 rating in the UK (for good reason!) … but is totally pitched at younger teenagers … say 12 – 15 years, it’s a high school drama … and from my experience, it seems that it is the younger age group who are hooked on it, young people shouldn’t be watching this show without an adult to discuss the issues it brings up …
- It doesn’t show a realistic or sensitive picture of what it is like to feel suicidal or depressed, it glamorises mental health problems and it reduces the complexity of suicide to a series of unfortunate events.
- People who feel suicidal or end their lives are not doing this because they want to get revenge on others, they do it because of their mental state because they feel hopeless and can’t see a wait out of how they are feeling or believe the pain will never end. Hannah’s mental health is not really explored at all, it’s all about the events that happen to her … and there is no discussion or information about depression and mental health.
- The show focuses on a narrow narrative that implies that bullying caused her suicide, but suicide is not a blame game. Bullying does sometimes lead to mental health problems but suicide and depression are complex and there is rarely one cause. Sometimes there aren’t any obvious reasons why people become unwell … and no one thing leads to suicide.
- If people believe that suicide is about drama and revenge it might make them have less empathy and understanding of those who struggle with these feelings.
- Hannah blames others for driving her to take her life when really she made the decision to go through with this act and chose not to tell people or engage with professional help. This might be hard to read, but lots of people feel like this … and it could make some people feel they are responsible for the deaths of people they know or love.
- The message that using suicide as a revenge strategy will achieve the outcome you wanted and make people feel remorseful is dangerous and wrong …
- The show could have focused on Hannah trying to get the help she needed instead, she doesn’t talk to her parents … and there are no adults who are shown as caring or helpful … if someone is watching this and feeling suicidal this might make them believe there is no help or hope.
- A story of a hope, with a more positive outcome, could have contributed a powerful and important message to young people, helping to show those struggling with their mental health that there is help out there and some light at the end of the tunnel.
- The show had very few warnings and a lot of unexpected and triggering scenes including graphic images of violence, sexual abuse, rape and self-harm.
- Even after watching the whole series I was not prepared for and did not expect the detailed and very upsetting scene in the final episode … We all know what happened by then and the scene seemed really unnecessary.
- If you are feeling vulnerable these scenes could be very triggering and might reinforce or validate ideas about harming yourself or ending your life, some mental health professionals are even worried the show might inspire ‘copycat’ actions.
- In the UK, there are strict guidelines around how suicide is depicted on screen, but Netflix is not subject to these regulations as they are a US company. The Samaritans have criticised the show saying “It is extremely concerning that a drama series, aimed at a young audience, can be produced outside of the UK and made available to UK audiences and yet not subject to UK media regulation.”
- Depression is a horrible illness and should be taken seriously, we need to move away from the stereotypes that trivialise or dramatise mental health problems and bring positive attention that raises awareness and understanding so that people feel able to ask for the help they need. 13 Reasons Why definitely doesn’t do this …
If you are feeling vulnerable or experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm I urge you not to watch this show … instead please talk to someone you trust or ask for help – believe me, there is help out there and things do get better, I am proof of that …