I thought long and hard about writing this post. I spent the last week binge watching “13 Reasons” along with so many others. While I reminded myself constantly that this series had the best of intentions, there were a number of times when I felt really uneasy with how they dealt with certain issues.
I’m not a mental health professional, and always defer to those who are more qualified than me to provide guidance, so first of all let me note that the following are my opinions only, and while I can’t claim them to be right or wrong, I can claim them to be mine.
Lets start with the good…
- This series has started so many conversations about mental health, which is always a good thing. I’ve noticed that people are turning to those they know who have experience of mental illness to ask them their opinion. “is this how it really is?”, which in turn gives those who are struggling a platform to share their own truth. This is no small thing, and these conversations save lives.
- It also starts conversations about consent and sexual assault. It shows that these experiences forever change the victims.There’s no doubt that these are important issues, and that girls and boys need to understand what consent means. In the final episode Mr. Porter asks Hannah if she said “No”. She didn’t. But she didn’t say yes either. She was frozen with fear. Its important that both girls and boys discuss consent, in schools, with their parents, among themselves.
- It shows the damage that our words can cause. Rumours are assumptions that, over time, become assumed to be facts. A girls reputation sits on a knife edge between being a prude or ‘frigid’ to being just the right amount of attractive and sexy. Move one inch beyond that, and you are branded a slut. Labels follow and define kids for years. None of us are just one thing, we can be wild but smart, sporty and academic, beautiful and damaged, popular and unconfident. We also change and grow over time, and should be allowed to do so without being haunted by past mistakes and learning experiences.
- It reminds us that we need to look after each other, that none of us really know what others are going through. Sometimes the kids who seem to “have it all” are those who are struggling the most. We never know when a thoughtless comment made from frustration at our own struggles can be a last straw. We also never know when a smile, or a “how are you doing?” can add some light to someones day just when they need it most.
With all that said, here’s where I’m struggling.
- There are many warnings going around on social media. People are advising those who may be triggered by this series to avoid watching it. I know a number of people who have taken this advice, but the show itself should feature a warning at the beginning of each episode. It should also provide details of support organisations at the end of each episode. You can’t open a can of worms and just leave them there.
- Netflix released a 29 minute “Behind the Reasons” episode which, for me, did a much better job of addressing the issues. Only in this episode, is it recognised that Hannah wasn’t perfect. They recognise that in her final conversation with Mr Porter, Hannah set the counselor up to fail. She pushed him away. She could have done more. Her parents weren’t bad or neglectful. While some of those mentioned in the tapes mistreated her, and caused her trauma, there were others who were blamed for simply missing the signs. She could have asked for help but maybe didn’t know how, and all of a sudden it was too late.
- When Clay asks Tony “Did I kill Hannah”, Tony answers “Yes”. My heart sank and, for me, this is the biggest issue I have with this show. And here’s why. When I was 16 I lost a very close friend to suicide. He had moved to my school the year before, and we clicked immediately. He had a dry sense of humour and cracked me up. We sat together in many classes and while he was very quiet, I always felt at ease with him. He hated my boyfriend and said I needed to dump him, and he was right. But I never got to tell him that. After he died I remember sitting beside an empty chair. I also remember asking myself if I should have known, if I could have helped, if I had only spotted some signs. The thing is, I was a kid, I was consumed with my own crap and my own issues, as every other teenager is. I was trying to figure out my place in this world, and didn’t have the emotional intelligence to spot that he was struggling. His family and his teachers had not been able to prevent his death, how could I have? I see that now, but this is why I feel that this series places blame on those who didn’t see Hannah’s death coming. Clay was in no way responsible, and to imply that he was, is very dangerous.
We can only ever be expected to be the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly be in a given moment, and to always be kind. The series implies that the only way Hannah can be heard is through her death. When you die, no one hears you. No one can ask you why, no one can put it right. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
If you are struggling, we would advise that you give this show a miss. Please make a call to any of these organisations, ask for help. Start by clicking on this link, let it be the first step. This too shall pass.