'Thirteen Reasons Why' Can Be More Harmful Than You Think

'Thirteen Reasons Why' Can Be More Harmful Than You Think

By Vanessa Palencia

I’m not big on boarding the hype train for every new TV show or movie, simply because I don’t like being swayed by the mainstream media. But after I kept seeing people on Facebook disagreeing with the way the show delivered its message about suicidal people (in this case a high school student), I needed to see what the big deal was.

If you live under a rock and haven’t heard of or seen the show, then here’s what you need to know. Thirteen Reasons Why, a book-turned-tv-show, depicts Hannah Baker’s life through Clay Jensen, a friend and coworker of Hannah’s. The story starts with Clay receiving a series of tapes that Hannah recorded before her death. Through these tapes, Hannah takes Clay on an auditory journey explaining why each person featured on the tape (13 to be exact) has driven her to commit suicide. Aimed to raise awareness about the hidden demons of suicidal people and help others understand the importance of being kind to others, Thirteen Reasons Why certainly makes you rethink your choices and actions. However, the overall message of the series isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In the first episode, Hannah Baker claims that the people mentioned in her tapes are responsible for her death. This statement didn’t sit well with me. After watching a few episodes, I realized why. Hannah was pinning the people on her tapes as murderers. While what those students did was wrong, it in no way constituted them as murderers. As tragic as her death in the show was, she was responsible for her own death.

Guidelines created by suicide prevention experts state that suicide is “usually the result of multiple causes, often involving mental illness,” but in the show, Hannah fails to exhibit any signs of mental illness. Instead, we see Hannah calmly planning out her death by leaving behind evidence of blame. By blaming each student, Hannah also  seeks her revenge by making those students relive their mistakes. Since the majority of the show’s target audiences are teenagers, this isn’t necessarily the brightest idea because Hannah’s plan of action glamorizes suicide. This can be dangerous because, as Dan Reidenberg, an executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, says: “Young people are not that great at separating fiction from reality.”  Suicide experts also advise strongly against the message being sent through the series as they say that the show can lead to contagion, or “copycat suicides.”

It’s also important to note that the show doesn’t provide another option for Hannah, which is pivotal for people with suicidal thoughts to understand. Suicide shouldn’t be an option, but the show doesn’t tell you that. In addition, Hannah’s counselor brushes off her attempt to get help, which doesn’t accurately portray real-life counseling sessions and can possibly deter suicidal people from seeking help.

The show succeeds in opening up sensitive topics, like emotional problems and psychological issues, to discussion. It also highlights the ongoing bullying problem that goes on within school walls. But it’s imperative that the media paint a clear picture of what it’s really like to suffer from depression and offer genuine advice on how you can help yourself or others through those times. Otherwise, an over-exaggerated show like this can romanticize suicide and lead more people to consider that as an option to solve their problems instead of confronting them or asking people for guidance. Accurately portraying these problems is essential to solving them and until then, Thirteen Reasons Why is just setting the foundation for other programs to come.

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