This series hit unbelievably close to home for me. As someone who writes and speaks often about these heavy subjects, I watched the entire thing within a day.
I saw myself in Hannah.
I saw my friends in Hannah.
The same friend who called me right before he was going to attempt suicide. The same friend who called me crying after she got assaulted at a bar. The same friend who got roofied and woke up next to someone not knowing how she got there or what happened.
I saw myself in the hallways as texts messages and whispers made her feel so alone.
I saw myself in Hannah as she looked at her parents and putting on such an act when something went wrong and they didn’t know because she was so good at acting.
I saw myself in their love story. Hannah not thinking she was good enough for Clay and Clay being too afraid to love her.
I saw myself in Hannah as she sat getting victim shamed. I thought of myself at age 12 when administration pinned the fights I got into and the snide comments on me. Like I was making myself a target because of something I did.
I saw myself in her silence as she walked down the halls.
I saw myself and my friends in that moment she was asking for help but it seemed no one was listening.
I saw myself in her beauty that she couldn’t see because all she heard were the mean comments.
I think these themes were portrayed very accurately.
First victim shaming.
When you shame a victim all you do is make them want to retreat into themselves and not tell anyone what happened. You cause them to become a prisoner within themselves so they can’t escape it. They replay the moments where they are frozen with shock that this is happening to them and they are paralyzed.
When you shame a victim you are telling them, whatever happened is okay. You are telling them they need to accept this and just move on. You are telling them their voice doesn’t matter.
The second was bullying.
What broke my heart most about this series wasn’t Hannah’s story. It was how everyone responded to it after the fact. No one wanted to be responsible. No one wanted to admit they were at fault. And everyone began looking out for themselves out of fear it would ruin their future.
I think that’s what hurt me the most was everyone but Clay’s concern for themselves and wanting to hide and deny what was true. The truth no matter how ugly it may seem always does come out.
I think it’s so important when you see something wrong you say something. When someone is not being treated right be the one who changes that. Do not just say it isn’t your problem. It is everyone’s problem when someone is not being treated right.
The bullying. The gossip. The spreading rumors. I remember when I was there and I remember how lonely it felt. And all I hung onto was a few good people. And there weren’t too many at the time. But it was those few people that made me see the good despite the bad. The fact that not one person could have been her friend when she needed one most crushed me.
And the administration was as much to blame for it. There is a bullying problem at every school in America. Anyone who denies that is ignorant. Covering up the graffiti in the bathroom didn’t hide the fact that those kids had to walk through the hallway dealing with it every day. And not just Hannah.
She represents every high schooler in America because if you haven’t been there, you’ve seen it and if you haven’t seen it, maybe you were the bully. What we need to be teaching kids is to do what is right even if they are the only one making that choice to do it. All it takes is one person to make a change.
The third was rape culture.
As I get older I begin to realize how much this affects every girl. (And maybe guys too.) There isn’t a girl I’ve ever met who hasn’t had a snide comment directed towards them walking down the street. There isn’t a bar I’ve been to where I haven’t heard stories about sexual assault or experienced it myself. I’ve heard more stories from my friends than I would like about things they didn’t deserve happening to them.
Most the time people don’t want to talk about it. It’s easier for everyone to move on. Charges don’t need to be pressed and there’s that feeling no one will believe you if you do tell your story. There’s that feeling people are going to blame you for what happened.
Questions get asked, how much did you have to drink that night? Or what were you wearing? Or you took that the wrong way. What should be getting asked is how can I help you get through this? Who do you want to talk to?
It’s the snide inappropriate comments. It’s the texts that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. It’s looking at someone and thinking you have the right to do what you want, say what you want, act how you want just because.
Nobody has the right.
And what we should be teaching people isn’t to stay silent. We should be giving them something not to talk about. And that starts and ends with the respect you have for another person because when you dehumanize someone and do what you want, you have no right to tell them how they should handle the situation.
The rape scenes were graphic in this series but they had to be. Because that moment frozen with fear and paralyzed is what it’s like.
The fourth was masking depression.
So many teenagers walk around depressed. I know I did my senior year of high school. And I didn’t know enough about it to put some label on it. What I did know was I got a D in my favorite subject. I was sleeping more than I should have. I stopped caring about my appearance. And every day between bells was just trying to get through another day of high school with my head down as people said things.
It was putting on a smile when my heart was breaking because heartbreak and first love are far worse at 17 than anytime else.
What we need to be teaching these kids isn’t to hide what they are feeling but rather address it, feel through it completely because it’s only then they can step away from it.
We need to tell them depression like anything is a feeling that will subside and it will not define their entire life. We need to tell them, there are better things ahead than a school full of people talking and being mean.
Suicide does not kill people depression does.
The fifth was suicide.
I’ve spent more time researching this subject in the past 7 years than I ever spent studying anything. And what I’ve come to find more so now than ever is kids look at this as a solution. They see it as a way out. With social media more relevant in kids lives today, all it takes is typing it into google. All it takes are hashtags on Instagram that show support groups about cutting and suicide.
Social media plays a major role today more than ever in bullying, assault, and suicide. These devices that are supposed to connect us make us feel more alone than ever.
These kids don’t see a future. They don’t see things getting better. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and that’s what we need to be telling these kids. Suicide should not be the second leading cause of death for kids between the ages of 18 and 24. We need to change that statistic and it starts with having a dialogue of the subject. It starts with teaching people to read the signs before something does happen.
I tell readers and friends suicide simply passes the pain on to someone else. Your death isn’t yours to have it is something that happens to everyone else forever altering their lives. What I tell people is ‘I do not want to attend your funeral. I do not want you to become a statistic.’
We need to reach these kids before they lose hope. Because there is a moment or two before someone attempts suicide where there is a bit of hope left and they are looking for a reason to stay. We need to act in that time we have and do something.
The sixth was a tragic love story.
It was two people in love and both of them were afraid to admit it. We have to not be afraid of the things we feel. We have to not fear to admit it to someone.
To repress love is a tragedy.
We fear not the other person’s inability to love us back but more than that we fear that they feel the same way. When you are frozen with fear of what words might do to a relationship those are the words you need to say.
Tell someone you love them when you know. Love is what will save people from themselves. Love is what will heal people. Allowing love into your life is what will bring happiness. To love someone and not be afraid of showing it is the bravest thing you can do. And when you’re lucky they love you back.
We need to teach kids and everyone for that matter, it isn’t about some dating game and who is more coy and who shows feeling less, it’s about going for it regardless of how scared you might be. I promise you something good will come of it.
Finally the importance of kindness.
The last thing I took away from this series was the impact we have on one another. You never know the role you play in someone’s life. Whether that’s big or small. You never know how much a kind word, a simple text, a smile or hug could alter someone’s life forever. You never know how one conversation or putting aside an hour of your time can alter someone’s life forever. I believe we all have the ability to change one person’s life. And we have to teach everyone to be a little kinder to one another.
Throughout watching this, despite Hannah being this fictional character she was all of us who have ever walked through doors of a high school. I wanted to be her friend. I wanted to save her. I wanted more than anything for this to not hit so close to home. But it did.
In every story I’ve read over my 7 years of research and of the people I’ve known and lost, they weren’t fictional characters. They were real people with real lives and goals they will never achieve. They were more than something that turned into a yearly statistic.
They were daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, friends, classmates but they were so much more than that. And it’s our job to try and change the dialogue of this subject.
Because this wasn’t just a series about suicide, rape, bullying, depression and victim shaming. It was so much more than that and the start of what I hope will change things in someone’s future.