Slightly different blog post to normal, but I think this is an important thing to talk about. Before I get started, please be aware that this post WILL contain spoilers of the Netflix original series Thirteen Reasons Why, and the book of the same name by Jay Asher. You have been warned!
There are many reasons I didn’t particularly like thirteen reasons why, and I don’t think there are many people that can watch the series without feeling very uncomfortable. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the series is great in that it’s got a lot of people (particularly young people) talking about mental health and sexual abuse, and hopefully series like this will lessen the taboo of such topics.
In my opinion, everyone that watches this series will watch it in a different light than the next person depending on their own experiences. Just so you know where I’m coming from, I had quite severe depression throughout my teenage years, and I think this may alter my opinion on the series.
One of the first things that got me about the series is how trivialised Hannah’s suicide is. At the end of the day, a young girl has taken her own life after some of her schoolmates make life very difficult for her. However, I feel like this fact is taken away slightly from the story due to the nature of the tapes and the way that we, as the viewer, simply wants to find out what these people, and more importantly what Clay, have done to make Hannah’s life end so tragically. The use of flashbacks in the program is helpful to make us feel immersed but it makes it difficult for us to remember that all of this happened to Hannah which lead to her death.
Another thing that I found difficult was that Hannah’s suicide is seen as more of a revenge tactic than that of a desperately suicidal individual. Whilst revenge suicide is unfortunately something we are seeing more of, I think it’s important for the viewer to know that Hannah doesn’t seem to be wanting to get revenge, rather she is trying to make all the bad things that happened to her go away. Lets face it, Hannah dealt with her fair share of crap in the series, among losing her best friends, being the victim of bullying and rape, as well as her parents financial difficulties. However, as it unfolds, we learn that Hannah feels she has no other place to turn, and that there are dire consequences to this.
It doesn’t matter which perspective you watch it from, I don’t think you can help but feel incredibly sorry for Clay. In the series, Clay is Hannah’s “love interest” who seemingly fails to stop Hannah from taking her life. Despite this, Clay is kept in the dark until he reaches tape 11 out of 13. Even before he gets to this point, he’s torturing himself with the thought that he’s effectively murdered Hannah, when in fact he barely knew her enough to even notice the small signs that there was something wrong. This is another problem I have with the series, Hannah doesn’t display any outwardly obvious signs of being depressed or suicidal. Obviously, I understand that not everyone will display these signs or symptoms, but I feel like it would have been more useful to the audience from an educational point of view if we saw more warning signals. For me, as soon as Hannah cut her hair rather spontaneously and drastically, I saw the warning sign- although this is not explicitly noted in the series. I have met a lot of people with mental health problems, and many of them (including me) when going through a “wobble” will change their appearance- whether that be hair cut, colour, tattoos, piercings or other forms of body modification.
One of the largest issues I had with this series is that the viewer is made to believe that if someone had showed some kindness to Hannah while she was contemplating suicide, she would still be alive. However, if you watch closely, Hannah has many opportunities to stop and think about what she’s doing. For instance, Hannah herself says that after she recorded the majority of the tapes, she felt better that she’d got all of her feelings out. Instead of using this as a coping mechanism, which most people who haven’t fully decided on suicide would, it makes Hannah decides she wants to end her own life even more than before, which suggests more of a revenge tactic (or maybe even an attention seeking move) from her. Several times in the series what Hannah says doesn’t correlate to what she wants, and the person at the other end of the tape is seemingly blamed for this, despite them trying to do what they think is right for Hannah at that time. On the other side of this, we see two accounts of rape in the series where both Hannah and Jessica have not consented to sexual contact with Bryce, yet he carries on- which is an interesting parallel.
Myself and my best friend Emma have been watching the series almost since it was first released (she finished before me), and we are still discussing it now. It’s almost impossible to stop thinking about. In one way, this is a good thing as we’re breaking down the barriers with mental health, and I know that many people will feel more confident about talking about their mental well being because of this. However, this is also has an opposing side. I feel that had I been watching this as a 15 year old with severe mental health difficulties, it could have been extremely dangerous. Due to the nature of not being able to get it out of your head, I feel that an already suicidal individual may feel “pushed” over the edge. While I think that it’s good that this series has opened eyes about mental health difficulties, I think it’s important that people don’t now become massively eagle eyed by trying to spot warning signs. Obviously, situations like the one with the school counsellor could be drastically improved (and should be, if schools and mental health services follow the correct protocol), but I would hate for someone who needs to talk about their mental health feel like they can’t because they’re too worried about being “outed” to their parents. For reference, professionals can only break confidentiality if they have reason to believe that you may hurt yourself or others, and therefore in the case of Hannah disclosing that she wanted life to end to her school counsellor, this should have been reported immediately to the relevant people.
I also really disliked the scene where Clay discovers Skye’s self harm scars. She states that that is what people do instead of suicide, as suicide is for the weak. Everyone has their own opinions of the act of suicide, and I don’t want to get into that here. However, it is wrong to state that self harm is only done by individuals who have suicidal ideation. In fact, most individuals who engage in self harming behaviours will not go on to take an attempt on their life. Skye also engages in what most people think self injurious behaviour is- cutting/scratching her wrist. I think the series missed out on an important part of mental health difficulties that not everyone is aware of- self harm is not always cutting. Self harm includes a variety of behaviours that may involve cutting, but also biting, hitting, tying ligatures or binge eating and purging.
I think it’s long overdue that we see some less stereotypical views of mental health difficulties in the media, and as this has been such a sensation among many young people, it would have been a perfect place to start. If you have been affected by anything written in this blog post, or similarly the book or series, I am going to list a number of organisations that can help you (another thing that should have been added to the series in my opinion). If you suffer with currently, or have suffered, with mental health issues, please think twice about watching this series- particularly if you do not have a support network around you. Also, while it is always tempting to binge watch a Netflix series, don’t be afraid to give yourself time out from it. I simply couldn’t cope with watching such a hard hitting program for hours on end, so don’t push yourself too far- there’s nothing to be ashamed of to admit that you need a break!
Stay safe, and look after yourself.
Helpful websites/phone numbers
SANE: 0300 304 7000
Young Minds: 020 7336 8445
Childline: 08001111 or www.childline.org.uk where you can chat online with a counsellor or send an email.
Lesbian and Gay Switchboard: 020 7837 7324
Anxiety UK: 08444 775 774
Samaritans: 116 123