10 Lessons Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’ Can Teach Us

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Flickr / Juliana Dacoregio

I was scrolling through Netflix a few weeks ago and the face of a young girl caught my eye. So did the title: 13 Reasons Why. I clicked to read the synopsis: Clay Jensen, a shy high-school student, returns home from school one day to find that he has received a mysterious package in the mail. It contains seven double-sided cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate who has recently committed suicide. Each tape details a reason that she killed herself. I felt a calling that I needed to watch this. I knew it would be difficult, but I knew I would want to write about it, so I dove into each of the 13 episodes.

Each episode documents the events and people that led up to the fatal decision of suicide for 17-year-old Hannah Baker. As each episode got closer to the finale, I could feel the pain, the sorrow, and the emptiness. As someone who experienced suicide for the first time myself at 7 years old, the topic has been something I’m very familiar with. Not only did I experience the finality and consequences of what suicide causes; I, too, have struggled with depression and bouts of dark moments where I contemplated the idea myself. What can this very important show that highlights so many very important yet taboo topics teach us?


1. It doesn’t matter your age; hopelessness is hopelessness.

It’s easy to see a high school teenager and think “it’s not that bad,” “this is a typical moody teenager mood swing,” “he/she just wants attention,” or “he/she loves drama and being the center of attention.” All incorrect inferences. When someone perceives the future and/or themselves as worthless, they don’t care about anything. They don’t care that they are young and that high school is simply a blip on the map of life. They don’t have that perspective and life experience yet, so never assume they will never do it.


2. It doesn’t always look like a theatrical cry for help prior to the act.

They may never mention the words suicide, depression, darkness, or help. They may silently be plotting and making the decision.


3. Suicide is not for attention.

The students at the school mentioned statements such as “Hannah was a drama queen. She killed herself for attention.” The fact is that “Hannah” is no longer getting ANY attention because Hannah is dead. Hannah’s suicide is what follows her memory. That, and a lot of people trying to deflect any accountability they may have had leading up to her decision. Suicide is not “I’ll show them!” Suicide is to stop the pain. It’s that simple.


4. The final act is not a Shakespeare play.

There is no music playing. There are no cameras. There is no hero on the way. There is only deep pain and the idea that it needs to stop. The suicide scene in 13 Reasons Why brought me to my knees, literally. I have never seen a suicide depicted so realistically. The producers did that on purpose. Suicide is not pretty; it’s not a joke. This particular suicide scene was Hannah stepping into the bathtub and slitting her wrists with razor blades. Absolutely gut-wrenching.


5. Your words matter.

You may think that words don’t mean much, but I assure you that is far from the truth. Your words can impact another person more than you could ever realize. As we learn in 13 Reasons Why, bullying—whether in person, via text, or on social media—is bullying. It matters and it impacts people. Especially during a high-school career; young teenagers are trying to scratch the surface on who they are becoming. Teenagers are very much in a space of worrying what their peers think of them, their reputations, and their status within the school, what they are wearing and who their friends are.


6. Ring the alarm even if it ends up being a false one!

Prior to the suicide, Hannah went to her high school counselor and said so many things that would have had so many alarms going off in my head. It hurt to watch her walk out of his office. If only he would have not let her leave…or followed her outside of his office…or called her parents. That scene was an epic fail to me. How about the anonymous note the teacher read out loud? If you ever have a small inkling or someone says ANYTHING about wanting life to end, I hope you try to help in any way you can.


7. Rapists aren’t all created equal.

“Bad guys” don’t always look like bad guys. In this story, he was very well-liked and had prominence in the school. Because of this he thought he would easily get away with it. The girls were also afraid to say the truth out loud because they thought no one would believe them. Again, the show did a great job of depicting the rape scene(s). It was extremely difficult to watch but did a great job at depicting how violated the woman feels and how a little piece of her dies after such a violation.


8. Listen to what people don’t say.

There were moments where you could see that Hannah wanted to reach out to her parents for help, but they were so wrapped up in their own issues that they missed it. They missed the desperation in her eyes. This was also something the character Clay learned as he listens to his tape. If only they would have paused in those moments, would it have made a difference?


9. Speak your truth; honest communication is key.

Just like Hannah did not feel safe to speak her truth and tell people how they had hurt her or what had or hadn’t really happened. Hannah’s parents were doing their best, but if they would have stayed just a little closer to her and perhaps kept the communication flowing, perhaps they could have heard a warning. Honestly, once someone decides they are going to commit suicide, there is nothing anyone else can do, but it’s just a reminder to talk. Keep talking. Talk about everything. No one can read your mind. No one knew what Hannah had planned. Her parents had no idea what was going on in her life. Her “friends” had no idea how their actions were impacting her.


10. Suicide is not the answer.

There is ALWAYS a light at the end of the tunnel. Hannah experienced a few incidents that led up to her suicide. She felt like she couldn’t catch a break. She felt like the people around her, including her struggling parents, would be better off without her. She felt worthless, invisible and unheard. Feeling invisible is the worst feeling in the world. The reality is that yes, shit happens in life and sometimes people will let you down, but it’s never the answer to end your life. I can speak from experience in knowing that my dark moments where I felt invisible and couldn’t see the light weren’t actually my end like I believed they would be, thankfully. I didn’t stay there. It always got better over time. Life always gave me more beautiful reasons to hold on and in fact reasons to fall in love with my life. Life can be a struggle and there will inevitably be tough times, but you will survive them. Reach out to ANYONE. You are loved and this world needs you and your unique contributions.

Thank you to Netflix and the producers for creating such an impactful series. I hope people begin and continue to talk about these important topics. If you or someone you know is struggling or is contemplating suicide please, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or chat with someone at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#.

Love and Light,
Tianna Leigh
#suicideispreventable #800273TALK #LETITOUT TC mark

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