Reasons not to watch "13 Reasons Why"
As someone who has tackled – and continues to tackle – depression and mental health issues (both personally and through other forms of media), I think it’s time I say something about 13 Reasons Why.
Let me first say that I think there is some value in raising awareness and inciting a conversation about the subject, because it is essential that it gets addressed. That being said, I think a Netflix series – and specifically this Netflix series – gets it completely wrong.
My first issue with 13 Reasons Why is that it spends little to no time looking at the causes or motivation behind suicide, and when it does, misrepresents them. The show’s narrative reinforces the notion that bullying leads to (or can lead to) suicide. The problem with this, apart from presenting the idea that suicide is caused by exclusively one thing, is that this portrayal of suicide paints the image of the act as a final “fuck you” to everyone you leave behind (primarily those bullying you). Although clearly those impacted by suicide are going to remember the person no longer with them, I have issues with the idea that suicide is a means of revenge. 13 Reasons Why perpetuates the harmful premise that there is a straight, linear path to why a suicide happened by pointing fingers at peers, parents, or individuals. It doesn’t do the subject justice, or respect its complexity enough. And on complexity – this show has a very basic premise, which isn’t necessarily conducive itself to dealing with such a large topic. Despite devoting 13 hours to essentially an analysis of suicide, there is almost no insight into the psychology of it. Who was Hannah Baker before everything fell apart? Why did the challenges and cruelties she experienced in high school affect her so much more strongly than it may have someone else?
Apart from the lack of respect for the psychology of suicide, the content matter itself is wildly ignorant of reality. The show never talks about mental illness or depression, presenting suicide as the only option in Hannah’s situation. It doesn’t tell the much more common story of people struggling with difficult emotions and experiences, supported by others, who are surviving. If you look at the actual statistics of what’s occurring today, mental disorders and substance abuse are present in 90% of suicide deaths. In adolescents, 20% have/will have a serious mental illness. For those between ages 10 and 14, suicide is the third leading cause of death (and the second among those 15-34). As one of the first mainstream media portrayals of suicide, the show neglects its responsibility to report or even discuss the accompanying issues that affect the lives of so many people.
Even purely looking at the show itself (in terms of graphic content, etc.) it’s clearly not at all beneficial. Multiple psychologists and experts, including Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz (president of the Child Mind Institute), have come out against the show. The show ignores decades-worth research on public health policy on how we take care of teenagers, specifically evidence that “Teenage suicide is contagious. We know for over three decades that when kids watch television where they depict a suicide, they’re more likely to attempt and they’re more likely to actually (kill themselves).”
If you’re watching the show simply because it’s entertaining, I beg you to look at the larger picture here and at the very least think critically about what you’re being shown. To normalize this image of suicide and mental illness is to misrepresent millions of people, perpetuate harmful premises and ideas, and, most importantly, is just wrong.