The day that you were hospitalized is a day I will never forget. Your electrolyte levels were so low some of your organs were beginning to shut down—you were near death when they rushed you to the ER. When I found out why, I felt guilt.
It was my sophomore year in college, the spring semester was wrapping up—we were all quite busy. If my memory serves me, we didn’t have any classes together that semester; with the slight differences between Biology and Biochemistry major schedules, that was one of the only times we didn’t share at least one class. You were many things to me: lab partner, cohort, friend; and yet, I didn’t notice that you were slowly starving yourself. I didn’t recognize that you were more than just thin—you were dying. I didn’t realize you had an eating disorder until the day it almost killed you.
I should have noticed, of course—but you always seemed to get by just fine. When we went out to eat, you never seemed to skimp on food; sure, you ate less than me but you were eight inches shorter than me and much, much thinner. Having been a chubby kid through puberty and early adolescence, being thin was a good thing in my mind. Between being the butt of every fat joke and being picked last in every team sport, it never crossed my mind that someone was too skinny. Despite growing into a physically fit adult, the mindset persisted—and it almost cost me a dear friend.
I see a similar pattern in many of the characters portrayed in the Netflix original, 13 Reasons Why. Hannah Baker reached out to different people and in different ways for help—but they all either missed or ignored the warning signs. Clay’s character, in particular, was clueless. He didn’t read the signs, perhaps because, like me, he couldn’t relate to the problem. He didn’t suffer from social anxiety, he didn’t feel the need to be wanted and accepted. Clay Jensen lived in a world where what other people thought of him was irrelevant and, sadly, he was unable to see it from any other perspective. Similarly, Mr. Porter chose to overlook Hannah blatantly saying she wanted everything to end as mere teenage angst. And so Hannah ended her life alone and in pain, leaving only a corpse for her parents to find.
The internet has had a lot to say about this show and how it depicts teen depression. Many are saying that it glorifies and promotes suicide, that it could be a trigger for those already contemplating. Whether or not they are right seems to me to be kind of irrelevant at this point—the show is already out there being consumed by millions. I think this discussion is detracting from a very important lesson, however—that we need to keep an eye open for the warning signs. Thousands of people are suffering from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, bullying, and countless other problems—chances are, you know at least one. Chances are you have the opportunity to help someone whose life may very well be in danger, but you can’t do anything about it if you miss the warning signs.
If I could go back, I would look at how thin you were and recognize it as a problem. I would notice that you were skinnier than any healthy person should be, that your skin was stretched too tight over your bones. I would realize that you had an eating disorder and I would be there for you. It’s hard to say whether or not I could have changed the outcome—whether I could have saved you that near-death experience—but I would have tried. I am so grateful that you recovered and beyond proud that you have maintained a healthy weight for close to three years now.
My challenge to the rest of you is to become knowledgeable; educate yourself about the symptoms of depression and eating disorders. Be able to recognize when someone may be at risk of inflicting harm on themselves or others and be there for them. I cannot stress enough how important that is. The best thing you can offer is not advice or distractions—the best thing you can offer is your presence. Do not let someone you love go the way of Hannah Baker.