There has been a lot of controversy around the new Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”. This is due to the dark and triggering subject matter and the question of whether or not it is a good portrayal of mental illness. Regular contributor KC shares her thoughts on the show and why she liked it.
I just finished binging Netflix’s new original series, “13 Reasons Why”, in three days. Like most of their original content, it was designed to be binged. However, a HUGE “trigger warning”, especially for those with mental health issues: I’d already been in a (relatively) mild depression relapse, but this show was so intense and put me in a very dark headspace for a couple of days. While I believe the main takeaway was that we should be careful how we treat others because we don’t know how it will affect them, or what they are going through behind the scenes, it also kind of reinforced my sometimes-internal belief that most people in the world are terrible and shitty and I am an island surrounded by ignoramuses and jerks that will continue to make life terrible for me and everyone. Woah, that got dark fast! Don’t worry, I’m back to my slightly more optimistic self, but I think it’s clear that this show is better in small doses to keep yourself from falling into this depth of despair. It’s a great show, and very tempting to watch episode after episode- but you’ve been warned!
Full-fledged, spoiler-containing review:
Please keep in mind that I have not read the book (written by Jay Asher) and this review is based off of that perspective. I was hesitant to watch this show, as I felt from the trailers that it seemed to possibly romanticize suicide and depression. The lead, 20-year old Aussie actor Katherine Langford who plays the main character Hannah Baker, is gorgeous and pouty, the music is catchy, and the trailers have a very stylized look. However, I still gave it a chance and I’m very glad I did! I think in the end the show very accurately captured the hopelessness that may drive someone to suicide, and how suicide can deeply impact your immediate loved ones or even those in your vicinity in perhaps unexpected ways.
I wanted to make a corny “13 Reasons Why” list you should watch this show, but I think that would be incredibly long and you would probably just rather watch it yourselves, so I’ll give you the TLDR.
I felt that this series gave an honest portrayal of teenage bullying and mental illness: usually, in shows that feature teenagers, difficult topics are often glossed over or watered down in the name of being “appropriate”. This show did not take that route, and prominently featured swearing, violence, sexual assault, addiction, mental illness, and suicide. I do not think any of this was done in a glorifying way, but to show the realities of the world that Hannah was living in.
I also appreciated the show highlighting the point that no two people are affected by the same event, and that should be considered when we gauge the reactions of others to certain events or circumstances. One of my pet peeves in dealing with my own mental illness is when people make comparisons to others in the hopes of making me feel better. “Oh but at least ______ didn’t happen to you”, or “I know the same thing happened to _________, you can deal with it too!”. Comments like these just further perpetuate the stigma and I think this was an interesting point brought out in the show. Hannah’s character is featured on a crude “Best of” list, designated as having the “Best Ass” in the school. She feels violated by the attention, frustrated that this further implicates her in a false narrative (namely, that she is the “school slut”), and is even subject to physical groping at the corner store by resident creep and rapist, but forgiven by his peers because he is a golden athlete, Bryce. Other girls feel flattered by the attention of being on the list: a poignant shot of the girl deemed to have the “Best Lips” shows her applying liberal amounts of lipstick and puckering in the mirror. There is nothing wrong with owning this feature, but in Hannah’s case she had other underlying circumstances that made this a traumatizing experience for her, that perhaps the “Best Lips” girl did not. In another case, a seemingly friendly face to Hannah went behind her back and published in the high school ‘zine an intimate poem that Hannah had written for a local poetry club. He did this without her permission, thinking that it was a piece of art that deserved public recognition. For Hannah, it was just another in a chain of events where she felt that her privacy was violated, and high school students being high school students did not react appropriately to the poem, further frustrating Hannah concerning how she is perceived by those at her school. To the student who published the poem, he did not understand why she was so upset and felt she should be flattered by his recognition of her work. He was unaware of a lot of what Hannah had experienced, and did not realize how this may impact her perception of his action. One thing can affect others differently and we should be cognisant of that in our actions and reactions to those around us.
Another aspect I appreciated about the show was the storyline surrounding how the school dealt with Hannah, before and after her suicide- in particular, Mr. Porter, the school guidance counselor. After her death, the school was plastered with signs with generic slogans like “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” We hear these types of phrases a lot, but as we saw with Hannah’s last appointment with Mr. Porter, often asking for help is not enough. The type of care one receives is vital to their recovery. Hannah had already decided to commit suicide, but then had a slight change of heart and decided to seek help in the hopes that she could find a way out of her decision. Mr. Porter seemingly had the best of intentions, but was either too preoccupied to recognize the warning signs, or just did not have the right training to deal with such a serious case. He made assumptions about the night Bryce raped her, instead of creating an open environment where she felt comfortable sharing her story. Once she was finally able to relay that it was a non-consensual encounter, he reacted by telling her how difficult it is to prosecute and simply instructing her she needed to find a way to move on, without suggesting any resources to do so. For Hannah, this meeting was the final nail in the coffin, and her hopelessness overcame her.
The scene when she committed suicide was graphic and intense, and in the first time in awhile I openly sobbed while watching a TV show or movie. The physical pain she experienced when bringing the razor blade to her wrists seemed excruciating, but it was not enough to overcome her psychological pain and she forced herself to finish the act. When her parents found her, I really lost it. I think that was partially because we had witnessed the after effects of how the suicide impacted them throughout the series, and how much they cared for their daughter. So when seeing them in the immediate aftermath, we could really grasp the pain they must be in.
There were other dark reasons behind Hannah’s suicide, namely bullying, rape, and witnessing a crime with fatal consequences. I won’t get too much into the nitty gritty of these topics as I do not feel I have the experience to judge the accuracy of their portrayal. However, these scenes were gut-wrenching, raw, and her explanations of how they affected her felt genuine. I would love to hear from others their opinion on how these experiences have impacted their mental health and how you felt the show portrayed them.