Because we’re in the mental health industry and work with so many young people and parents, we thought we needed to watch this piece of work known as 13 Reasons Why. However, most of us haven’t been able to get through the entire first season. It made us feel sick, offended, disgusted, and a variety of other bad emotions. Ashley Akers, a therapist here, offered herself up to stomach the entire first season, and here are her thoughts.
13 Reasons Why We Hate 13 Reasons Why
#1: Target Population
This popular Netflix show appeals to a young audience of tweens and teens. Maybe an unintended consequence is that it appeals to individuals who can identify with the problems with the show (depression, sexual assault, bullying, self-harm, cliques etc.). “If you’re wondering why so many organizations and individuals felt the need to address the issues presented in 13 Reasons Why, it’s because suicide is the second leading cause of death for the primary demographic watching the show—people between the ages of 15 and 24. And females aged 10-14 (likely the age of Hannah Baker) actually had a tripling of their suicide rate from 1999 to 2014.” These teens are not just seeing these things on T.V., but they are also probably dealing with them to some extent on the day to day. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, the show does not depict healthy coping skills and leaves a sense of hopelessness for those who are struggling with these issues. The National Association of School Psychologists has released the following statement regarding the show: “We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”
#2: Missed Opportunities – disregarding the role of mental health
While watching this series, you begin to get involved in the stories of the characters. The main character, Hannah, goes through her tapes, explaining how each person hurt her or her reasoning for including them in her story. All of this leads up to you watching the graphic display of her death. Her story includes how she met these individuals, what role they played in her life, ways that they hurt her, and what she wishes they would have done instead. However, the show manages to disregard mental health and the role it plays in suicidality. 90% of individuals who commit suicide have an underlying mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc. None of these things are discussed in the show, and especially not while Hannah was still alive. Teens may be experiencing these types of mental health issues, or symptoms of these issues, but may not understand what it is or why they feel the way they do. This show had a platform to educate and show how these mental health issues may show up in real, day to day life. They also had a platform to show how to find help for these issues or feelings. Instead of doing this, Hannah seeks help from one unhelpful counselor but is not shown utilizing any other resources.
There have been mixed reviews on the controversial ending of the series. The final episode shows a clear graphic scene of her death by suicide. The author of the book recently talked to Entertainment Weekly about the decision to include this scene. In talking about the show’s finale, Asher also told EW that they purposefully made the suicide scene in the show graphic—for the purpose of driving home the point that her choice to end her life was a bad one.
Reportingonsuicide.org provides responsible reporting recommendations based off research in an effort to prevent or minimize subjecting vulnerable individuals to risk factors. On their website, they state, “risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.” Showing this graphic scene to a demographic that may be struggling with issues portrayed in the show is irresponsible and ignores research aimed to help and keep people alive.
#4 Misrepresentation of Mental Health Counselors
As a counselor, I was very offended by the role of Mr. Porter, the High School Counselor. While I work in a different environment, I was in shock to see the lack of relationship he had with students, his inability to see risk factors, and his negligence towards students seeking help. Counselors in his position should be able to identify factors that could lead to suicidal ideations or behaviors. (Sexual assault, depression symptoms, etc). Hannah made a sexual assault outcry to him against another student in the school, and he did nothing. With this being said, I do not believe this is an accurate portrayal of school counselors or mental health professionals. Individuals in this field go through extensive training on suicide and crisis intervention and, I believe, are generally equipped to be helpful in these types of situations. The mental health profession is filled with stereotypes and stigmas that we as counselors are continuously trying to overcome so that individuals do not feel stigmatized or weak if they seek help. The particular scene with the counselor and Hannah was anger inducing because this is how media is choosing to represent mental health professionals.
#5 Lack of Follow-up Care
There are two student deaths that occur over a short period of time in this show. The first death is a student who dies in a drunk driving accident. After this student dies, there does not appear to be much support or resources available to the students to cope with the loss of their friend. Hannah is the second student to die shortly after. In this case, there appears to be somewhat of a discussion with students in her class, but there is still not a lot of support for students that were close to her.
Generally speaking, in a case like either of these, most schools would bring in people to talk to students, or a crisis response team, and identify students who may be at risk, such as close friends or those in contact with the deceased student. In the case of Hannah, all of the people on her tapes, with the exception of her counselor, were people she was friends with at one point and had a role in her life. These people should have all had some time to process their grief and feelings. The school in this show demonstrates an isolation among students.
#6: Role of Bullying
Hannah goes through the tapes, making one for people who she felt had victimized her in some way or another. Some of these instances are bullying, and some of these instances are when a friend decided that their friendship was no longer valuable. However, there are two instances where a student, named Bryce, sexually assaults another student. The show has become known for the way it depicts acts of bullying, but sexual assault is not bullying, it is a CRIME. I do not want this to get lost in the anti-bullying semantic of the show. Sexual assault is a crime and should be taken very seriously.
There is also an idea perpetuated by the show that bullying leads to suicide. While bullying can be a risk factor, it is not a linear relationship as the show depicts. Suicide is complicated and bullying is not a sole cause of suicide.
#7: Taking Friends Emotionally Hostage
Hannah tells her story of the last years through tapes where she blames others for her decision to take her own life. After the individuals on the tapes listen to their tapes, they usually display guilt and their own emotional recourse. The phrase, “We all killed Hannah Baker” is said numerous times, giving the idea that if they had done something different, then Hannah would have still been alive. This is not a fair assumption. When a person decides to commit suicide, it’s not someone else’s fault.
#8: No Justice for Victims
Bryce is a rich kid who seems to be able to get away with anything. He buys alcohol even though he is clearly underage, seems to have no supervision, and sexually assaults two different girls with no repercussions shown. One of the tapes includes the night of a party where Jessica was drunk and passed out. Hannah heard what was happening while she hid in the closet, and Justin was aware of what was happening but was afraid to say or do anything. Until the tapes came out, Jessica had not truly known what happened that night. Later, Bryce sexually assaulted Hannah at a different party. She is seen leaving visibly upset. Shortly after, she goes to talk to the school counselor where she was not provided any option to talk to law enforcement, parents, or doctors. In the final episode, all the students in the tapes are giving their account on tape. At this time, Jessica discloses to her father and others in the room that she had been raped. The way the show ends in this season provides no hope or optimism for victims of sexual assault. In the second season, this is something I hope to see addressed and some type of justice served for these two girls.
#9: One-sided Perspective
The entire show is shown from the warped perspective of one individual. You do not see the whole story and have no opportunity to really know the “truth” in the matter.
#10 Glamorization of Suicide
One of the biggest issues with the show is the romantic relationship depicted between suicide and revenge. All of these tapes are meant to be hurtful to someone in her life. To an extent, she wants others to feel the pain that she was feeling. The story is narrated by Hannah, giving the sensation that she is alive and watching all this unfold. The writers miss the complexity of suicide, and professionals fear that impressionable viewers may misinterpret or take the wrong idea from the series.
#11 Forget Clinical Terms for a Second; Some Things in the Show are Just Plain Stupid.
For example: Clay gets into an accident at the beginning of the series, leaving an ugly gash on his head. My assumption is that this is to help viewers differentiate between past and present times. The gash looks like it gets worse and worse throughout the show and he never received any follow up medical care. At times it looks infected and you want to scream at the adults in his life who are not addressing this nasty gash. Time to see a Doctor, Clay!
And speaking of all the adults, all of them are clueless. It’s unlikely that all of these humans would have survived into adulthood, considering how utterly daft they are.
#12 Ignoring Other Characters
There are several character that clearly have bigger issues going on than what Hannah thought of them. Justin experiences homelessness frequently due to his mother’s relationship with an abusive drug user. Clay shows signs of serious mental illness throughout the series. Jessica begins drinking at school to cope with as sexual assault. Tyler, the school photographer, is bullied often. These are all other platforms that could have been addressed and used to show solutions and help to all these issues. Instead their issued are minimized and the focus remains on what they did to Hannah.
#13: Little Inspiration or Hope
The biggest sin this show committed against its audience was providing little to no sense of hope for those who struggle with mental illnesses, emotional challenges, or sexual assault. The author of the book discussed the book’s original ending: Hannah lives after attempting to end her life. However, he thought this part of the plot didn’t drive home a hard enough message for viewers. They chose to take a different route, and Hannah dies. By doing this, it makes suicide look like a viable option. With the exception of her one meeting with the counselor, you do not see Hannah reach out for help from anyone – not friends, parents, or teachers.
In fairness, there is one character, Skye, who appears to have struggled with similar issues (she also discloses that she has self-harmed in the past). While her character suggests that coping is an option, her role is so small that she gets lost in the chaos around Hannah. Overall, 13 Reasons Why offers nothing in regards to help, resources, or solutions.
We, on the other hand, do offer hope, help and resources.
You can call us for counseling (469-283-0242), and here are some useful resources:
- 6 Apps for suicide prevention: http://www.sheknows.com/health-and-wellness/articles/1095269/suicide-prevention-day-apps
- Suicide Prevention Hotline
- Suicide Prevention Information: National Mental Health Institute
- Suicide Prevention Resources for Teens:
- Text Crisis Line
- Text “Home” to 741741
- 13 Reasons Why Not