mental health · mental illness · Uncategorized

13 Reasons Why: Mixed Feelings

You’ve probably heard about or seen ’13 Reasons Why’ – this post will be full of spoilers.

It’s a Netflix show about a girl called Hannah who commits suicide. She leaves tapes for people to listen to, they detail all the people who hurt her leading up to the suicide. There’s been a lot of mixed reactions to the show so I thought I’d get involved in the conversation.

Firstly, there were things I liked about ’13 Reasons Why.’ I think that the acting was brilliant and so was the music. It dealt with important issues around rape, sexual assault and consent – victim blaming, using alcohol as an excuse etc. And, contrary to a lot of people, I don’t think the whole ‘leaving tapes’ thing was a stupid twist. Why? Because when I was 16, I would have done it.

As a very mentally unwell teenager, I attempted suicide. I wrote suicide notes to all the people who had helped and hurt me. As a teenager, your world is very small and your concept of consequences is not always fully formed especially if mentally ill. In my head, I thought people would want answers as to why it happened so those notes would clarify it. Perhaps differently to Hannah, they weren’t a blame tool but an explanation. But, I get it, I don’t think it’s a far fetched situation.

So what didn’t I like about it?

The show makes it seem like there are no viable alternatives for Hannah. She only reaches out to the school counselor once and he is shown to be unhelpful. I also experienced a useless counsellor at school so can relate. But, through the series and after she tries to get support just this once, you are made to feel like it was the only choice she had. That is absolutely NOT true. Yes, bad experiences happen when you reach out for help but that does not mean they will all be bad. It promotes the idea that nobody can and nobody will help you if you talk. This show is going to be watched by a lot of young people, this message is totally irresponsible.

This show is about suicide and there is no mention of mental health. I mean… come on! It paints a picture that suicide is a result of terrible events. However, while these events contribute, suicide is more likely a result of being unable to process the emotions after these events. A mentally healthy person does not consider suicide when something goes wrong. The creators of this show were so focused on the drama that they failed to realise that they missed a huge point – mental health and suicide go hand in hand. If you’re talking about suicide, use the platform to discuss mental health. Maybe it’s not as entertaining but it’s vital.

The graphic nature of some scenes – this was something I struggled with. On the one hand, TV shows and movies can portray realistic events that make an audience empathise deeply with a character. On the other hand, vulnerable people will see this. In the past, when unwell, I have been known to seek out triggering material as a bizarre self destructive thing and this shows gives it out in spades. I would watch shows about suicide as it would reaffirm my desire to do it. Now, I’m not saying my fucked up brain is indicative of everyone’s but it means that creators have a responsibility with the material they put out.

I really appreciated the warnings before episodes. It meant that I could avoid watching the rape scenes. I made that decision to skip them however, not everyone will – they might think that it won’t be that bad or that they’re being over cautious with the warning. From what I’ve heard and read, they are not being over cautious. I feel so relieved that I chose to miss those scenes because they would have had a huge impact on me. The point is that vulnerable people will not always avoid triggers and the graphic nature of the show could be incredibly distressing to people and that concerns me.

Despite all of this, part of me enjoyed ’13 Reasons Why.’ I liked the diversity of characters, the fact that it dealt with difficult topics and I could relate to Hannah. It was gripping and I kept wanting to watch more. But, on reflection, I would not recommend watching it to anyone who struggles with mental health. I feel that it could be particularly harmful to teenagers, the very group that it portrays.

I want a show that deals with suicide. The lead up, the aftermath. I want it to reference mental health and show that support is available but sometimes hard to find and to accept. This is not that show.

What were your thoughts on ’13 Reasons Why’? Let me know in the comments.

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