13 Reasons Why: An Unrealistic Portrayal

Why 13 Reasons Why Sucks

Salma Geneidy

Opposing Opinions

Photo: Wikipedia

13 Reasons Why: A Good Influence

How 13 Reasons Why Opens Minds

Cece Phillips

July 6th, 2017

At the end of last March, the world was introduced to the television adaptation of the best-selling book, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. For those who haven’t heard of the show or the book, the story is about a teenage girl by the name of Hannah Baker, who decides to kill herself. Before she does, however, she records thirteen tapes detailing all the reasons that led to her suicide, and who is to blame. The story revolves around one of the thirteen people Hannah blames: Clay Jensen. Throughout the show, we follow Clay as he slowly goes through each tape, we follow Hannah as she makes her way towards her own death, and we follow the other “culprits” as they struggle to comprehend the effects of their actions on Hannah.


With the release of the show came a lot of praise: many felt that this show would be what leads to more open discussions about suicide, bullying, and sexual assault. People praised the extremely graphic nature of the scenes containing rape and suicide, saying that we as a society shouldn’t shy away from these difficult and uncomfortable subjects.


Alongside the overwhelming amount of support from viewers, 13 Reasons Why is receiving a lot of backlash, especially from health professionals and people who have first-hand experience with the subject matter. It is becoming quite clear that this series, while having the potential to be helpful, is doing more harm than good. Here’s why:


The show oversimplifies suicide and fails to go over the psychology it.


Suicide is oftentimes a spur-of-the-moment decision, rather than something that is planned over a few weeks. Yes, those struggling with suicidal thoughts do think about it a lot, but when it finally happens, it is usually an impulse decision. Someone who was planning on committing suicide would probably not be able to sit down and meticulously go over every reason they’ve decided to take their life.


More often than not, people who attempt suicide struggle with mental illness, yet there is absolutely no mention of Hannah’s mental health. Instead, the people around Hannah are trying to find someone or something to blame for Hannah’s death. The message appears to be “being nice to people can stop anyone from committing suicide,” though completely disregarding all of the complications involved in mental illness and suicide. The main character even says: “I cost a girl her life because I was too afraid to love her.” This ideology places the blame on friends and family, which can be quite harmful to those who have been “left behind.”


The show implies that bullying or sexual assault is bound to lead to suicide, and it’s up to the people around to prevent it. Sometimes we can do everything right, we can be supportive, we can be kind, and still fail. Suicide is an extremely complicated thing; there is rarely one or two or thirteen concrete reasons as to why it happens.


The show glorifies Hannah’s suicide, and makes it seem like her death was almost admirable.


13 Reasons Why presents Hannah’s death as an opportunity for those around her to be better. She quickly became a symbol of how cruel teenagers can be. While this was most definitely not the intention, the show makes it seem like suicide is a viable option for someone who is struggling. In some ways, it also seems like Hannah’s death was a way to get back at those who wronged her. We see throughout the show how they suffer at the hands of Hannah’s tapes, almost as if her ghost is coming back from the grave to haunt them for their wrongdoings. For someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, suicide now seems like a better option, if not the best. Yet one thing that the show fails to emphasize is that no matter what happens, one thing will always remain to be true: Hannah is dead. Her suicide is permanent.


The certain graphic images displayed can be triggering for those who are at risk.


Towards the end of the season, viewers are presented with two extremely graphic rape scenes, as well as Hannah’s suicide. The scenes last for at least four or five minutes each. While some feel that the graphic nature of these scenes is a good thing, it is important to remember that they may also be extremely triggering for people who are survivors of trauma or are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Such images have the potential to push someone over the edge.


The show is a bad influence on anyone who is at-risk.

As the story creeps closer and closer to Hannah’s death, it starts to seem more and more like Hannah’s suicide was her only option. When she turns to her counselor, he ignores what is clearly a call for help. At this point, she has no one to turn to, and it’s like her situation is completely and utterly hopeless. The way Hannah’s teacher reacts, despite the fact that she is clearly suicidal, passes the idea that going to a counselor will do nothing, to kids and parents both. Teenagers may start to feel like no one will do anything to help them, even when they ask for help. Viewers are presented with what not to do when someone is struggling, without being able to see the right way to help someone.


The way 13 Reasons Why presents suicide is completely unrealistic. Giving the wrong ideas to teenagers, especially those who are risk, can be extremely harmful. Some of the ideas presented in this show risk creating copycats and may paint suicide seem like a reasonable option to someone who is struggling. Viewers only see what can go wrong, without getting to see what can go right.

The Netflix original 13 Reasons Why is a culturally important series that candidly talks about bullying, suicide, and sexual assault, and sheds light on the technologically eccentric era teenagers are forced to grow up in. This show can be very triggering to survivors of sexual assault and suicide, as many graphic scenes are depicted, so proceed with caution. However, despite the personal depictions shown on screen, 13 Reasons Why is a captivating yet disturbing show, and it illuminates the topic of teen suicide--a topic many fear to discuss-- forcing families and school counselors to face the problem that has been so long forgotten.


The main character, Hannah Baker, decides to take her own life due to the stress, bullying, and feelings of helplessness that her high school social life has brought upon her. Upon taking her own life, she leaves recorded tapes detailing the bullying and assault she faced and the lack of trust between friends that she endured. Two weeks after Hannah’s death, the neighborhood “good kid,” Clay Jensen, finds the box of tapes on his door step. The show is essentially based around Clay listening to the tapes. Through them, we discover the many people that took advantage of Hannah and ultimately left her feeling that her only way out was to end her own life.


It is through Hannah’s tapes that we can see that teenagers face hardships too. Many people see the show as glorifying suicide, but it opens the topic of teenage suicide and depression in many homes. Depression, bullying, and suicide are not topics to be taken lightly, yet many high schools do nothing to prevent either from happening. Approximately 20% of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood. In 2016, more than 1 in every 5 high school students reported experiencing some form of bullying. As reported in 2014, suicide is now the 2nd leading cause among death in teenagers. 13 Reasons Why forces viewers, young or old, to examine their life and look for warning signs in those around them.


The series also brings up other topics beyond the realms of suicide and bullying: signs of substance abuse, “slut shaming,” and homophobia.


Substance abuse is introduced when Jessica, Hannah’s “ex best friend,” who was sexually assaulted, is seen drinking excessively and hiding copious amounts of alcohol under her bed. Teenagers drink, yet many are unaware of the fine line between having fun with friends and excessive drinking. Jessica’s immoderate drinking forces viewers to examine themselves and their drinking habits. It also opens a window to parents, who never want their children to drink, but must come to terms with the fact that they do. This allows them to discuss drinking limits and precautions with their children.


“Slut shaming” is one of the most blatant topics of 13 Reasons Why, yet it is widely overlooked. As I have just graduated high school, slut shaming is something I heard and saw everyday. However, in the series, girls are often portrayed as seeking male attention, which gives these teenage boys a reason to label these girls as “fast” or “easy.” In reality, the average American has 5-6 sexual partners in their lifetime. The series forces viewers to examine why females who are sexually active are often portrayed in a bad light, at times being called “whores” or “sluts,” while the same is rarely true for males. 13 Reasons Why gives us an opportunity to openly discuss sexism in America and allows viewers to challenge the topic head on.


The last controversial topic the show deals with is homophobia. Although the show includes many characters who are openly gay, it also includes a closeted female: Courtney. Interestingly, Courtney was raised by two fathers, yet her shame about her own sexuality stems from the hate and prejudice her dads have faced. It is important to realize that although we live in a progressive time where homosexuality is becoming more widely accepted, LGBTQA teenagers are more susceptible to bullying, depression, and suicide attempts. The show enables viewers to examine the environment they are in and encourage family members and friends to create a safe and accepting environment for LGBTQA teenagers. Having a culture and family where these kids are accepted is essential to their safety, mental health, and physical health.


The show is both comforting and disturbing to watch for someone like me, who has battled with chronic depression for four years, and continues to do so. 13 Reasons Why is not an amazing show because of it’s cinematography, it is not an amazing show because it is heart-warming, although it gives me hope. 13 Reasons Why is an amazing show because it is real; Hannah could be anyone, which makes it a conversation starter. 13 Reasons Why opened my eyes to the constant hate in the world around me and forced me to tackle the ignorance head on. Those who have faced bullying, sexual assault, or depression needed this show and deserve their struggles to be acknowledged.