The Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why, rose to prominence on the widespread streaming channel quickly after its release. Based on the novel by Jay Asher, the show tells of a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who compiles thirteen tapes before she commits suicide, each one dedicated to a different person who influenced the decision to end her life.
While it attempted to spark conversation about bullying and suicide, the way that the production delivered this idea only further promoted toxic ideals. And now, with the show recently announcing its second season’s release to be May 18, it is important for viewers to be educated on how exactly the show is problematic. Mental illness in pop culture is something that is typically conveyed inaccurately. 13 Reasons Why is no exception.
For one thing, the show depicts Hannah’s suicide as a result of bullying and sexual assault, among other things that she goes through. However, people who do attempt suicide, whether successful or unsuccessful, are less motivated by situations and massively influenced by mental illness. While bullying and sexual assault could have detrimental effects to anyone, as well as heavily affecting people who already struggle with mental illnesses, psychology experts agree that it was unlikely for someone like Hannah to commit suicide without having a mental illness.
In fact, the show, despite making it the main focus of the entire 13 hour duration, doesn’t touch upon the psychology of suicide at all. Instead of constructing Hannah Baker as someone who was depressed and suffering from effects of mental illness, the show revolved around the drama and mystery behind the suicide. If the real intention was to start conversation, the show itself barely touched on adequate ideas of suicide.
Pursuing this further, suicide is not something that one does out of vengeance.
Although that might make for a juicy story in a television show, it only promotes toxic ideas for others and misrepresents the reasons for suicide. After the premiere of the show, a 23-year-old named Franco Alonso Lazo Medrano committed suicide and actually left behind audio recordings explaining why each person contributed to his death. Because of the misrepresentation of suicide within the show, this copycat mentality spread– exactly what professionals were worried about.
“There is a great concern that I have … that young people are going to overidentify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series,” said Dan Reidenberg, Executive Director of SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). “I’ve heard from others that are really concerned because it’s so sensational and so graphic that they’re worried about the copycat effect of suicide.”
To another extent, 13 Reasons Why fails to properly represent suicide prevention and aid. While it may be possible that getting help doesn’t always work out, showing an educator and adult constantly denying the idea of suicidal thoughts could potentially turn people away from getting help. As MollyKate Cline wrote in Teen Vogue, “the audience is shown what not to do without examples of what they actually should do.” Once more, the show indulges in the drama of a suicide without properly representing the subject and failed to invoke conversation about positive ways to help prevent suicide.
The facts of that matter are that the only person who was responsible for Hannah Baker’s suicide was Hannah Baker.
This idea doesn’t have to be conveyed in a negative light; mental illness can often distort someone’s life and, with the proper help, they could find a way to cope and move past it. Vengeance is not a factor of suicide. Ending your life without any demonstrations of mental illness is not plausible. One cannot “fix” someone who is depressed by romantically loving them (contrary to the conclusion Clay comes to at the end of the season.) There are positive ways to display suicide prevention. There are better ways to evoke conversation.
13 Reasons Why is not the TV show on mental illness that everyone has been waiting for. It only contributes to the seemingly never ending misrepresentation of mental illnesses in pop culture. It only continues to teach wrong and toxic ideas about suicide and mental illness.
If you do decide to watch the second season of 13 Reasons Why, remember to keep in mind how it misrepresents mental illness and try to start beneficial conversation with others on adequate mental illness and suicide prevention.
Cover Image Courtesy of Netflix