Let’s Talk About 13 Reasons Why

Trigger Warning:This article, and the links embedded within, discuss teen suicide, gun violence, assault, bullying, mental health, and mature topics.  Not recommended for anyone under 16; all should read with discretion.  Connect with a trusted adult and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you are struggling or experiencing any distress. 

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why caused tremendous controversy when the first season was released in 2017, and its second season has been no exception.

The series, based on the 2007 novel by Jay Asher, has created an international conversation about bullying and mental health for teenagers.  Many teen and adult viewers see the show as entertainment and the conversation as a positive one, raising awareness about serious topics that teens face in their everyday lives.  However, many other viewers took issue with the show’s graphic elements; others argued that the series presented suicide as the only way out of bullying, and placed blame on others for the main character’s mental health struggles.

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Image: Netflix via Seventeen

 

Through our Instagram, we asked teens from all over the world about what they think of 13 Reasons Why, and whether the show is a good influence on young adult viewers.

“I think [the series] is good because it shows how problems truly are,” said Everly Mag reader Madi, 19.  “The graphics that it shows are a lot to handle, but that makes it all the more real.  That is what society needs, because most people are so used to things being sugar-coated, and aren’t aware of how bad certain issues are.”  Sure enough, the show’s first season has given teens a platform to talk about serious concerns, like suicide and mental health, with their parents.

Everly Mag reader Mackenzy, 14, agreed: “I do think that the show is a good influence on teens.  It shows teens how much it hurts others when they choose to end their life.  It show[s] how much their parents, friends, even [their] enemies hurt.”  The series’ first season catalyzed a rise in mental health hotline calls, which can be seen as a positive effect of the show in raising awareness.

However, not everyone sees the situation as positive.  A national manager of Headspace, Australia’s youth mental health foundation, noted in Business Insider that the rise in hotline calls can come from the aftermath of an “unsafe” or “[distressing] portrayal” of suicide, particularly after a graphic portrayal like the one in 13 Reasons Why.  The second season has faced similar controversy for a graphic assault scene that many viewers found triggering and deeply upsetting.

The series “honestly messes people up,” said Everly Mag reader Clara*, 14.  “When I watched the first season, all I thought of when I was mad at someone was, well, you’re going to be on my tape.”  In a narrative framing device, 13 Reasons Why’s main character, Hannah, leaves behind 13 tapes after her death – each one dedicated to a person from her past.  For many, the series leaves the impression that the tape recipients failed to save Hannah, or are responsible for her death in some way.  It’s an irresponsible choice that frames suicide as a revenge option.

“Sometimes, I would act depressed, like Hannah,” Clara continued.  “It really was bad.  It was all I could think [about].  It’s a really negative influence, to be honest.”

The series makes the problematic argument that Hannah’s suicide was a logical conclusion to her high school struggles.  “I think [the show] is triggering for some who have gone through bullying or traumatic experiences,” said Everly Mag reader Taylor*, 15.  “Hannah didn’t even go through anything compared to [others].  I just think it’s a very bad example of how to deal…I just don’t understand why she had to [commit suicide].  She really didn’t have a good reason to, which is not setting a good example.”

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Image: Netflix via Thrillist

[Related: Real Teens Talk 13 Reasons Why]

While the show’s handling of suicide has alarmed many viewers, others have felt inspired by the thematic content.  “I personally do not like this show, but as someone who has had a friend who [dealt with suicidal thoughts]…I believe it helps people recognize signs [of struggle] in their day-to-day life,” said Everly Mag reader Christine*, 16.  “It’s very important, even if the content of the show isn’t great.”

Many teens around the world struggle with stress, bullying, low self-esteem, mental health issues, and more.  However, it’s important for young people to realize that suicide is never, ever the only option; there are so many opportunities to experience hope, support, and recovery, no matter the depth or difficulty of your struggle.

For Everly Mag reader Atasha, 16, 13 Reasons Why is a source of positive awareness and productive conversation about mental health, particularly depression and anxiety.  “In today’s society, [mental illness] is such a taboo subject that teens think they’ll be looked at as weak [if] they tell someone about how they’re feeling.  When 13 Reasons Why came out, that’s when people first started taking the subject of mental health seriously, instead of pushing it to the side and telling people to get over it or [that] other people have it much worse than you do.  People need to realize mental health is just as important as physical health.”

Though mental health experts have created warnings and toolkits when it comes to watching 13 Reasons Why, the series seems to focus more on drama and bullying than depression and anxiety.  The characters consider how their actions affected Hannah in the aftermath of her suicide, but few discuss the implications of mental illness on teenage life.  The series, at least in its first season, does not include positive, productive depictions of characters seeking help for mental health struggles, nor does it provide an appropriate example for what teens should do when they feel distressed and powerless.

“It’s raw and painful and depicts a hurtful reality,” said Everly Mag reader Emily, 17, who believes the show is a good influence on teens today.  “Controversy stems from how it is shown, but the truth is that people do not want to admit that 13 Reasons Why has become part of the truth of some adolescents’ lives.”  Though dark subjects are part of many teenagers’ reality, mental health experts have argued that it is the portrayal of these subjects that hurts young viewers, particularly the decision to depict Hannah’s suicide as a result of the actions of others.

“I think [the series] is a bad influence because it’s not very uplifting and positive,” said Everly Mag reader Hope, 15.  “Kids these days should not be thinking about these things or even watching these kinds of shows.  The first season was basically a how-to video on suicide.”

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Image: Oakville High School Online

Ultimately, 13 Reasons Why is going to create an impact on the lives of its viewers, particularly teens and young adults.  On the positive end, teenagers can start productive conversations with their friends, teachers, coaches, and parents about the reality of mental illness and how to prevent suicide.  Teenagers can reach out to those who may be struggling and guide them toward adult resources and support systems that can help recovery.  Teenagers can also connect with one another to form and support causes that help educate and prevent against suicide and bullying, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Trevor Project.  On the negative end, the show has unsettled many young viewers, caused deep outrage among adult communities, and potentially perpetuated unsafe ideas about mental health, bullying, revenge, and suicide.

“I do think [the series] is useful in starting a conversation, and I think the first season really accomplished that,” said Everly Mag reader Kennedy, 17.  “Something [as] controversial as suicide is going to get some backlash, like it did.  However, watching the second season now, I think it’s really moved past starting a conversation and is now glamorizing suicide…I can see how younger kids could watch the show and get the wrong message.  I talked to some middle schoolers about it, and the main thing they got from [the show] was that suicide can be used as a form of revenge, and I think that’s a dangerous mentality for kids and teens to have.”

Here at Everly Mag, we believe the negatives of the series outweigh the positives.  We recommend that teens and young viewers should not watch 13 Reasons Why.   Instead, take the day you could spend watching Netflix, and do something to care for yourself, or enrich the lives of others.  Read a favorite book.  Find your next passion project.  Volunteer with those in need.  Laugh.  Reach out to an old friend.  Create, write, or draw.  Tell someone how much they mean to you.

And, always remember that you are worth it. 


What’s one way you can practice self-care for one day?  Comment below!

*Name changed to protect privacy of teen quoted

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This article was written by the Everly Mag founder, Katherine.  Get to know Katherine on Instagram!  Everly Mag © 2018.  All Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About 13 Reasons Why

  1. I’ve read the book three times; in High School, in college, and post-graduating. I’ve had a different reaction all 3 times, due to my maturity and mental state. I have appreciated it all three times, but also knew it would be problematic. It’s absolutely not appropriate for everyone, and would differ on a case to case basis. My biggest take away was realizing how something I did or said could have a huge impact on someone else. Maybe I was a joking, or didn’t think it would be as mean as it came off, but I can’t control how other people interpret it. My intent would not always equal the impact.

    I had similar thoughts on season 1. I enjoyed it (less than the book), and knew it would be problematic. I really think they should have been more true to Jay Asher’s novel, especially in the ending. I don’t know if changing it to leave leave open options for more seasons was a financial decision, or because the screenwriters felt they had more stories to tell in this world (I suspect it’s the first one), but I think it would have been less controversial and more impactful without the second season. Honestly, I didn’t finish the first episode of season two because I was so frustrated with the direction they chose. I will probably try to watch the second season in the future, but due to boredom, rather than interest in the characters or plot.

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