For a few months now, we’ve all heard the buzz around 13 Reasons Why. The first time I felt genuinely excited for it was after it was released and two of my friends watched it. Everyone was going gaga over this Netflix series and they all had one thing to say — “Everyone needs to watch it!” I hadn’t looked into the book so all I knew about it was that a girl dealing with a mental illness commits suicide because of 13 reasons (the title itself gives that away). Everyone talked about how it was making people aware and spreading a strong message.
My semester end examination prep leaves had started just a few days ago, so I obviously had ample time to binge watch a 13 episode show. It started off the way I’d expected it to. Hannah was seemingly normal. She was at a party. She was with two people. She got pictures clicked. She seemed slightly nervous but she was still there. At the party, she gets attracted to Justin immediately after seeing him.
A perfectly normal teenage girl.
I identified with her immediately. Anxiety and mild depression have been my unwanted companions since about four years now. When I saw her, I saw someone who might have had issues but put herself out there anyway. I saw myself. The thing about mental illnesses is they aren’t always visible. Especially anxiety or depression (unless someone has an anxiety/panic attack). A person suffering from these wouldn’t necessarily be a loner. He or she might also be the most popular kid in school. We don’t isolate ourselves – mostly. There are days when we don’t want to leave the bed but we do possess a social life. We’re just like everyone else. Just with a little more baggage.
When Clay reaches the tape about the party and we see Hannah watch Jessica get raped, it was evident. Hannah had massive issues. There was no other way someone could see one of her friends get raped! Then she left and didn’t tell anyone. Everything from then on seemed doomed.
In the twelfth tape, we see Bryce rape Hannah. And we see her succumb. At that moment I realized that she might have been dealing with depression that led her to become almost self destructive. She trusted the wrong people because she thought they were her friends even after they’d betrayed her. She gravitated towards people who were prone to cause her more harm than good. She seemed almost too eager to befriend someone, anyone (why she pushed Zach away was obvious — he approached her for a date immediately after she was molested by his friend). And that wasn’t wrong. She needed a friend. She deserved a real friend. She needed help and she tried to find it in ways that she knew.
Then she talked to the counsellor, Mr. Porter, at school. And as I predicted, she didn’t talk about everything. At that moment, I felt exactly what she would’ve felt. I know how it feels like to finally ask for help but feel awful while you do it. It feels terrible when you have to pour your heart out or even begin to tell someone that you’re dealing with something that’s slowly becoming bigger than yourself.
Justin, Jessica, Alex, Courtney, Tyler, Marcus, Zach, Sheri, Bryce and Mr. Porter seemed to have caused Hannah’s suicide. Now, although I understand the depths of pain that Hannah might have gone through — how it would’ve felt like to keep everything locked up and feel as if no one cared — no one understood. Everyone was callous to her. Being raped by Bryce was the last straw. She felt hopeless. And with her, I did too.
Mental illnesses have a way of making you feel as if you’re a liability. I could understand why it was so hard for her to ask for help. I knew how hard it must have been for her to go to Mr. Porter and say the things she did. She needed help. But she didn’t get it. I also understand how even the smallest of things mattered. When you’re dealing with issues inside your head, you’re prone to be on edge with almost everything.
The series showcases how someone can become so helpless that they feel that they have nowhere else to go. While suicide is an issue that needs to be shown and emphasized, I do not understand the idea of romanticizing it. The idea behind 13 Reasons Why – book or the Netflix series – is incredibly flawed.
There’s something known as the “Copycat Suicide” or the “Werther Effect”. A novel called “The Sorrows of Young Werther” by Wolfgang von Goethe was published in 1774 that led to a series of suicides because of its triggers. It inspired people to go down that path, made them feel that it was the way out of their misery.
13 Reasons Why, to an extent, does the same. With its lack of mention of depression or mental illnesses, it shows a very normal teenager giving up on her life because of some people. And not just that — with the tapes she leaves behind, it’s vengeful. And the idea of that disturbed me. It also makes you feel as if it was almost right for Hannah to commit suicide and make those tapes. She did have people who understood her or at least would’ve tried to. She had her parents. She wasn’t just plagued by bullying — she was plagued by much more than that. And that’s what the series should’ve targeted before they decided to romanticize suicide.
The Netflix series is a massive trigger for people who’re already suffering from a mental illness or are victims of bullying. It shows that Hannah committing suicide was justified because she had nowhere else to go. Although the plight is real, the solution doesn’t seemed to be depicted in a way that it was intended to. People who know nothing about mental illnesses or bullying seem to believe that it’s a very enlightening series that shows how bullying can push someone to commit suicide and urges people to “be kind to each other.” But the show is incredibly dark and misses out on some major information. After two days of binge watching it, I found myself feeling incredibly low, with negativity plaguing my brain. A show that’s supposed to enlighten you or make you feel as if you’ve been heard shouldn’t plague you.
An hour after I finished the show, I worried about the people who were dealing with worse things. People who might have seen the show and thought, “Maybe I should try this too.” Because for someone who’s going through so much, the idea of being free from it and getting revenge on those who bullied them seems so very liberating. But it’s not. It’s far from it. The series does show the aftermath, like how completely destroyed her parents are, but it isn’t enough for someone who’s contemplating suicide to stop.
We see at the end of the show that Alex has been shot. We don’t know if Tyler shot him or he shot himself. Either way, the tapes were not only cruel, but were also capable of leading another set of suicides. I’m not suggesting that the perpetuators were right. I’m just saying that justice could’ve been served without dying, that justice should’ve been served without the loss of a life.
13 Reasons Why tries to target a plot line that I’d been waiting to see for a really long while. But unfortunately, so far, it has failed at what it was supposed to do. The one good thing that has come out of it is that people are talking about things like suicide, bullying and mental illnesses. The show got renewed for a second season and I genuinely hope it redeems itself and makes up for all the major content that should’ve been there in the first season.