Within the first two weeks of its release, the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why became the most talked about show on social media ever. Based on a novel by Jay Asher, high school student Hannah Baker commits suicide and leaves 13 cassette tapes explaining how individuals led her to make the decision of taking her own life.
The show is an incredible drama in several ways. The representation of different sexualities and parental situations alone show that deep consideration went into casting. Little details allow for the teen age group to understand and relate to the largely brutal nature of the high school setting. However the show has received unwarranted praise for a message on mental health. In reality, the image of several key characters has prompted many mental health professionals everywhere warning people not to watch.
It must be acknowledged that many individuals of the high school demographic did take away an important moral. Most prevalently on Twitter, people have been expressing their revelations about their own interactions and the possible impacts they may have on others. Among the vast amount of commentary, one popular lesson seems to be “you never know what someone else is going through.”
It should be noted that for the individuals who did not already recognize this basic standard of human compassion, that the show should be credited in granting an elementary understanding of decency.
After 13 50-minute episodes, audience members left with no real means of directly helping those considering self harm. The way these producers showed love interests further promotes feelings of hopelessness for those who are depressed.
The story is told through the perspective of Clay Jensen and slowly but surely tells his and Hannah’s love story, or lack thereof. Anyone who has seen the show would agree that the audience is supposed to wish they could have been together. The overwhelming guilt Clay experiences after Hannah’s death is not because he regrets not asking about her wellbeing, it is mostly because he was “too scared to love her.” This is one of the largest issues with the premise of the show.
The idea that someone could have loved someone to live is one that neglects the dangers of evaluating self worth based on someone else’s idea of them. For the individual who relies on the other, they become infatuated with the idea of approval and perfection, as defined by the other. The “savior” is given the weight of someone’s entire livelihood and now has the responsibility of ensuring their happiness. Relationships in general should be supportive and accepting, but when someone is reliant on the other, this imbalance of power results in risk for eventually worsening the original issue.
It is not the role of a romantic partner to be the band-aid to a deeper wound. It is, however, the role of school counselors to report and help for individuals who are vulnerable. As mandated reporters, any school worker—whether it be a teacher or the principal—is required by law to disclose concerns, whether witnessed or suspected.
In the show, Hannah seeks help from her counselor Mr. Porter in the last episode of the show, saying—in non explicit terms—that she wanted to end her life and she tried to report that she was a victim of rape. She said she needed “everything to stop.” She described the breaking point for her mental state.
He advised her to move on.
This character is an irresponsible school official who was the last hope for Hannah in the show. This is criminally negligent. This makes good TV, but shows a terrible message. It says that even counselors—individuals hired to guide and support students with academics and their personal well being—cannot provide the help that Hannah needed.
The show should have sent a message about how important it is to reach out and talk about emotional health. The show should have focused on how people should react when their close friends and family come to them with uncertainty and feelings of hopelessness. When bad things happen, people like Hannah needed ways to process their feelings, guilt, confusion, disappointment, anger, sadness. Hannah needed someone to help her understand what was going on.
It is not enough to merely bring up the topic of mental health. It is just not enough to teach people “you never know what someone else is going through.” As a show with such a large platform, it is truly disappointing to see that dramatic appeal was prioritized over showing an empowering message about self worth. Streamers might have seen the entertainment value in each of Hannah’s misfortunes, but as a piece on suicide meant to help the suicidal, we need to be more critical of how incredibly harmful even something like a tv show can be.
Opinions are purely based on the Netflix show, not the novel.