“13 Reasons Why” mishandles issues surrounding suicide

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One of Netflix’s newest original series, “13 Reasons Why,” has become extremely popular, especially among young teenagers. The show depicts main character, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette “Scandal“), trying to uncover the reason why his classmate, Hannah Baker (Katherine Baker “Daughter“), decided to commit suicide. While the TV show attempts to address bullying and suicide, it misses the mark and instead sends a dangerous message.

First, it sends the message that mental health is something that is caused by others, while in reality, no one is responsible for one’s mental health, let alone their decision to commit suicide. The whole premise for “13 Reasons Why” is that a group of people caused Hannah to kill herself, when in reality the decision to commit suicide is never due to one thing and is very complex.

In fact, the show seems to ignore the psychology of suicide, or the mention of mental health, as a whole. It is obvious that Hannah and other characters in the show have mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, but the illnesses, nor the options for help, are never  directly discussed.

Rather than addressing the realness of mental illness, the show focuses on suicide as “the perfect revenge story.” By committing suicide and leaving revenge tapes, Hannah receives the sympathy, guilt and love she was looking for. It makes it seem as though suicide is a viable option for attention and love. Simply put, the  show glamorizes suicide.

Not only does it glorify suicide, but it also glorifies self-harm. There is a scene in which one of the character justifies her self-harm by saying, “It’s what you do instead of killing yourself.” This simplifies and glorifies self-harm by making it seem as though it’s a compromise to suicide.

Finally, there’s the suicide scene in which Hannah slits her wrists in a bathtub to end her life. Not only is there not an adequate warning for the scene that takes place in the episode, but it serves as a tutorial on how to effectively end one’s life. It is unnecessary to the plot, as it differs from the book, in which Hannah overdosed on pills. It is clear that the suicide scene in the series was simply for shock factor and had no regard on the actual consequences it may have on its audience.

This is important, because not only does the show misrepresent mental illness, but it has real effects on its audience, especially young teens. ReportingOnSuicide.org created recommendations as a guideline for the media on how to safely report on suicide: don’t sensationalize the suicide, don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note if there is one, don’t describe the suicide method, report suicide as a public health issue, don’t speculate why the person might have done it, don’t quote or interview police or first responders about the causes of suicide, describe the suicide as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed him/herself” rather than “committed suicide” and finally, don’t glamorize suicide. The show disregarded every one of these guidelines.

Some may argue that it starts the conversation about mental health, but it doesn’t. Instead it exploits stereotypes of mental illness, which furthers the stigma around the issue, as well as the stigma that people only commit suicide for attention. It does more damage than it does good and frankly, it’s dangerous.

Grace Carson is a sophomore at DU, and currently double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in English. Grace is notorious for always reading at least three books at a time, her social justice rants, and being a coffee-snob.

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