Netflix's new show 13 Reasons Why follows high school student, Clay, and his grief over the suicide of friend and crush, Hannah Baker. Following her death, a set of 13 cassette tapes are sent to the 13 people who played a part in driving her to commit suicide. The episodes are told through the point of view of Clay as he listens to the tapes.
Why is this show troubling? When I was in high school, one of my friends who I had known since we were six years old committed suicide. From my own experience, losing my friend was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through. 13 Reasons Why seems like it would be a promising show about mental health and the grieving process, and it seems like it could stand as an educating tool. However, for me, watching the show left me feeling uneasy and uncomfortable.
To me 13 Reasons Why does not live up to be a tool for mental health education; rather, it can be detrimental to those dealing with suicidal thoughts and ideation or victims of sexual assault. For one thing, the show had no trigger warning. And while Netflix has promised to add one, two months have passed before one could be added. This show, which contains both the showing of the actual act of killing oneself and a graphic rape scene, is extremely triggering to people who are victims of assault or are thinking about suicide. Without a trigger warning, negative feelings could be provoked.
Additionally, 13 Reasons Why shows negative reactions when people try to reach out for help. When Hannah tells her guidance counselor about her rape, he does no action. This could lead people away from reaching out to someone when they are in need of help. The target audience of the show is also teens. The teen years are a major time of both cognitive and identity development, so the actions of the characters in the show surrounding these traumatic events could lead to negative imagery developing in the target audience.
Further, the show treats suicide as a mystery and romanticizes the events of suicide. Most victims of suicide commit the act out of complete hopelessness. Hannah's tapes makes it seem as though committing suicide is the ultimate act of revenge against those that wrong you. This could lead to romanticizing misconceptions surrounding the act. The show also shows, in detail, Hannah killing herself, which breaks many media laws set in place to protect people. One of my friends had a friend who attempted suicide but failed because they did not know how to cut their wrists. This person was able to get help and continue living their life. However, because this show displays the act in great detail, it becomes easier for a person to perform the act correctly. Finally, the show ends without giving the audience any resources to reach out to incase they do need help. Teens are left thinking there may be no help in traumatic events.
To me, the fact that the show is renewed for a second season is what is the most troubling thing surrounding the show. Rather than being a source of awareness, it takes mental health issues and uses them to sell entertainment. 13 Reasons Why could have done an amazing job at bringing about awareness to mental health, bullying, and assault issues; however, the show failed to do any good.