Marufa Kasham, ‘19
I first read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher when I was eleven. I admit, I liked it. The book seemed to shake me to the core–I’ve never read anything like it. I was just being exposed to the significance of mental health at that age. I was a bookworm, and had gotten the suggestion from a high schooler when I had asked for book suggestions. When you’re eleven, you’re still very naive to the dangers of the world, and you never think that the most harmful thoughts you have lurk right underneath your subconscious.
The book tackles issues of sexuality, stalking, rape, and physical, mental and social violations the protagonist, Hannah Baker, faces, told from tapes that had been sent to everyone that had a part in her committing suicide. The book is told from the perspective of Clay, an unrequited love. In seven cassettes, two sides to each, she tells the story about how she ended up taking her life.
When I heard about the series coming out on Netflix, I was perplexed. How would the film industry handle such a delicate story? Needless to say, it was going to be talked about. I watched every single episode within three days of it being released.
It was disappointing, to say the least.
The biggest issue here was that it had sensationalized suicide, almost to a point of novelty. Within a week, there were several memes on my explore page on Instagram. The show had warped the idea of the tapes into something comically cruel. Suicide was a big joke, and suddenly everyone seemed to be laughing at the idea of pulling a Hannah Baker: When I die, I wanna be as petty as Hannah Baker.
It’s hard, but it failed to get the most important message across: Don’t let yourself drown in the demons inside your head–please get help.
When I read the book, I thought the central idea was to try to get help and reach out to people if you were hurting, but after seeing the show, it almost seemed like getting help wasn’t the best option, that maybe even committing suicide was the answer. There was one problematic scene where a character who was self harming flat out said, “It’s what you do instead of killing yourself.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention urges people who are at risk of suicide to not watch it. If the series’ intention was to raise awareness and prevent suicide, this was not the way. The show portrays graphic and highly triggering scenes, including sexual assault and Hannah’s death, which is unsafe for people it may trigger.
While the idea of the show may have had good intentions, they were unable to portray on scene, carefully, and with understanding of the perception and depth of the issues being portrayed.
Another big problem with the show is that they simplified suicide into being a direct cause of bullying alone. Suicidal and depressing thoughts have many layers, and while bullying may factor into it, to imply that is the sole cause is a naive and irresponsible, especially for a show that is targeted towards the easily influenced adolescent minds. To maneuver this idea was a bad decision on the producer’s part.
The entire idea of committing suicide to get back at those who hurt you and to finally be understood by everyone is a dangerous idea to portray in a time when the suicide rate is at an all time high.
So if you are at a state of high risk, I urge you to not watch this show, and I urge you to get help. I guarantee no real guidance counselor would have done what Mr. Porter in 13 Reasons Why did. Call 1-800-273-8255.