“13 Reasons Why” Depiction of Mental Illness: Hurtful or Helpful?

 

Katarzyna

PC: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

Michelle Everette
Staff Writer 

Season two of the Netflix original series, “13 Reasons Why”, has proven to be even more engaged with difficult issues than the first season, if that’s even possible. The show, which is loosely adapted from a book of the same name by Jay Asher, centers around the suicide of sixteen-year-old Hannah Baker, focusing primarily on illuminating the events that lead up to the tragedy.

Since its premiere, the show has received both positive and negative reviews. Some claim that its attempt to raise suicide awareness is genuine and perhaps successful in initiating discourse. Others argue that it may be commercializing or even glorifying some very serious issues. Either way, there is no denying that teen suicide is a problem that seems to be getting worse rather than better.

The suicide rates for children ages 10 to 17 have increased over 77 percent between 2006 and 2016, according to USA Today. In fact, it can be argued that all of the major issues addressed in both the first and second seasons are ones that have become rather prevalent in America as of late.

This begs the question: are the issues tackled by Thirteen Reasons Why being depicted in a healthy and useful way? As one can imagine, the answer to this is not so cut and dry, since there are several factors to take into account. For example, a major complaint with the first season was that Hannah’s suicide scene was unnecessarily graphic, which is a fair accusation to make. In Asher’s book, Hannah overdosed on pills rather than slitting her wrists in a bathtub full of water.

Yet, even without including this scene, it does not change the fact that there are people out there that have left this earth in the exact same way. While I am fully aware of the dangers of exposing a person with previous suicide ideations to particularly heavy scenes like this, there are certainly ways to attempt to lessen the potential damage.

For season 2, the show has made sure to include the following warning before the first episode: “13 reasons why is a fictional series that tackles tough, real-world issues, taking a look at sexual assault, substance abuse, suicide, and more. By shedding a light on these difficult topics, we hope our show can help viewers start a conversation, but if you are struggling with these issues yourself, this series may not be right for you, or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult.”

In addition, the show offers up resources like phone numbers for viewers to call should they feel they need to, and the name of their website, 13reasonswhy.info. The website has a list of resources and various videos that are meant to be catalysts for discussion. While all of this doesn’t change the fact that there are still potential risks associated with watching the show, it does make getting access to help somewhat easier.

Another sore spot for some viewers and several mental health professionals is that the show glorifies suicide because of all of the power which Hannah appears to gain after her death. This is also a valid point, as it is true that the show can be viewed as a revenge narrative from some angles, which then completely undercuts its message and intention.

However, for as many people that are worried and bothered by the show’s repercussions, there are just as many who may have been helped by it. According to Variety, “Netflix conducted multiple studies which found the show had a significant cultural impact, igniting tough conversations and causing viewers to take action in regard to its address of serious issues.”

Essentially, the show has both strong reasons why it should continue and why it shouldn’t. Yes, there is always a danger in portraying teen suicide, gun violence and even rape, if only because there will always be people out there who feel emboldened by what they see.

I would like to believe that there are even more people who will watch what Hannah went through and talk to their kids about it, or seek professional help if they need to. If there is even a slight chance that this show could change the life of a sixteen-year-old kid struggling with these same issues then I think that deserves to be acknowledged.



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