On the 31st of March Netflix released a series that had been highly anticipated by fans of the book ’13 Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher, a book that showed the story of a young girl, Hannah Baker, who decided to take away her own life after recording a number of tapes explaining the reasons for her suicide.
The series starred Katherine Langford as the main character, Hannah; and Dylan Minnette as another very significant character, Clay Jensen. The show got a 91% review from Rotten Tomatoes and 8.9/10 from IMDb. Through its explicit and raw depiction of mental illness and suicide it is said to raise awareness of the issues and how important it is to spot and act upon signs noticed in peoples’ behaviour that may indicate that they are struggling with something.
Actor and singer Selena Gomez was the executive producer of the show and was originally meant to play the role of Hannah, however she decided against it. Selena claims that the show and the story it presents hits very close to home with her as she had also been through may of the struggles that Hannah had experienced throughout the duration of the series. The star hopes that the show will also be relatable to the people that decide to watch it as it explores many issues that young people in high schools have to face in this day and age. She believes that the show will literally ‘shake’ the audience and she believes that this is something that is needed.
However, despite the high ratings the show got and the recognition it had receive, people still opposed the messages that it put across and the way the book and show go about the issues. This is due to the fact that Hannah (the girl that commits suicide) makes the tapes for specific people and genuinely puts the blame on them for her killing herself, which is said to be barbaric and cruel as some of the people on the tapes did very minor things or nothing at all, however they are made to feel as though they were still to blame for her suicide. Also, making people listen to a bunch of tapes explaining all the bad things in someone’s life can be pretty heavy for any person, even if their role in the situation wasn’t as major as others. These effects can be seen throughout the tapes as some of the characters that are on the tapes start to slip into self-destructive behaviours such as alcoholism.
Another thing that was highly criticised in the show is just how explicit some of the scenes were. People across social media sites such as Tumblr and Twitter were warning people to not watch the show saying it was ‘incredibly triggering’ and that ‘if you have a mental illness or are going through a hard times at the moment, please do not watch this show’. Many people claimed that the show brought up and amplified their own problems and really triggered mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. In the last episode of the show there is a very realistic scene of Hannah actually killing herself where she is shown slitting her wrists in a bathtub (which is different from the novel which describes Hannah overdosing pills to kill herself) and there is also an incredibly disturbing rape scene. These scenes were said to deeply upset even people who didn’t have any mental health issues, therefore it was very dangerous for people with these issues to see those scenes.
On the other side of things, although people didn’t quite agree with how insensitive the producers of the show were about certain issues, people still backed Netflix for releasing a show the raises awareness of issues of suicide and bullying in schools, which is, let’s be honest, not society’s favourite things to talk about. Although the problems Hannah faced were said to be ‘romanticized’ alongside the idea of suicide, it still showed just how damaging bullying and blindness to others’ problems can really be. It teaches the audience that they must look out for each other and that no matter how small something you did to hurt someone is, it can still add to the ‘snowball effect’ that leads to, in the worst case scenario, suicide.
The show also successfully shows the reality of suicide and the chain effect of consequences after a person ends their life. This is done through the producers thoroughly showing just how difficult it was for Hannah’s parents to deal with her death, especially as they were the ones that found her body. Some people claim that the show is like a ‘realisation’ of the consequences of suicide and how it made them realise that although you may feel like you have nobody and feel like no one cares for you, there is always someone, and most definitely your family.
I believe that the show has positives and negatives but I think that it really does raise awareness of suicide and just how impactful it is on the people around you. It is also the first modern show to really in depth explore those issues head-on, making it controversial but also effective.
If you are struggling with anything and need someone to talk to at any point, here are some suicide helplines that are always available:
- Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year
- Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK
- PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal
- Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts
- Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying