13+ Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” is Important

My post that was featured in “A Woman in the Middle”.

* SPOILER WARNING*

The Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’ has recently taken the world by storm. It’s Netflix’s first attempt at offering its teenage audiences an engaging drama that deals with serious issues, and has so far received generally favourable reviews. However, it has recently been at the forefront of the media along with accusations of normalising, romanticising, and dramatising suicide. It’s a thirteen-part American series revolving around high-school student Clay Jensen, and his friend Hannah Baker, who committed suicide after suffering through a series of horrible events carried out by fellow students. Hannah recorded a box of cassette tapes before her suicide, which document thirteen reasons why she ended her life.

I bought the book it’s based on back in 2007, but never got around to reading it. I binge-watched the whole series in a matter of days, and am definitely planning on reading the book. I was hooked from the first episode and simply couldn’t stop watching. Hannah’s tragedy mysteriously unfolds over two timelines – flashbacks of the events leading up to her suicide, and the present-day, where Clay unravels the mystery by listening to the tapes one by one. You can visually tell the striking impact Hannah had on Clay, as flashback scenes are more colourful, warm and bright. This storytelling technique is engaging and allows viewers to put the puzzle together piece by piece, not unlike the characters who listen to the tapes themselves. It’s incredibly well-written and hard-hitting – definitely one of my favourite Netflix original series so far. I’ve become so attached to it that I almost get offended when I hear claims that the series sets a bad example for teenagers, or desensitises them to serious matters such as rape. It’s rated an 18 by the BBFC, and has strong advisory warnings for a reason. Despite its countless heartbreakingly graphic scenes and sensitive material, the series as a whole is a devastatingly honest account of the everyday struggles that people face.

Every single issue raised within the series – be it sexual assault, homophobia, cyber-bullying, lad culture, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, depression, slut-shaming, suicide – they’re all tackled head-on. As a whole, each issue is taken seriously and isn’t sugar-coated. Indeed, some sexual assault scenes are graphic, but I feel the brutality of such scenes allows viewers to understand that it is in itself a graphic event, which should not be taken light of. In ‘Behind the Reasons’, actress Alisha Boe, who plays Jessica in the series, revealed that one of her family members is a rape survivor. When she shared with her family member the producers’ decisions to make the sexual assault scenes graphic, she said her family member was grateful – “that’s the only way people are really going to understand a rape survivor’s mind and what they had to go through”. Sitting through a one-minute rape scene on television is nothing – absolutely nothing – compared to being a victim of rape. So, maybe for one minute you will be have more of an insight, and understand why rape survivors are not only forever changed, but also incredibly, incredibly brave. I feel these scenes add to the realistic nature of the series, along with the relatable characters and scenarios.

Cyber-bullying is also touched upon – an issue never discussed as much as it should be; which is strange considering we’re all so wrapped up in the latest technology. I know my parents didn’t have a mobile phone growing up, so maybe that contributes towards the ignorance many people show towards this important matter. Personally, I think cyber-bullying is sometimes more harmful than real-life bullying, as people can easily become keyboard warriors and hold nothing back. It’s a growing trend amongst teens, which is worrying, considering teenagers’ brains aren’t fully developed – as a result, everything feels like it’s everlasting. So, if you’re a parent that tells their child to “move on”, “grow up”, or “get over it”, you’re not actually helping. This series demonstrates teenagers’ natural failure to realise that time heals, which in Hannah’s case, led to a heartbreaking impulsive decision.

Saying that, I feel this series is a great conversation starter between parents and children. We can’t ignore serious matters, and talking about them is a great way to start tackling these issues. The series shows how invisible Hannah felt – her symptoms were left unnoticed by her closest family members, friends, and mentors…and this comes down to a lack of communication. Communication is of utmost importance, however as a society, we seem to fail at it. It’s incredibly difficult to muster up the courage to find a safe space to chat about problems, so we need to try and encourage discussing such issues. We need to stand up to the stigma attached to mental health, and talk about it the same way we do physical health. Did you know one in four people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives? Or that there were over 6,000 suicides in the U.K. last year? How about for every suicide, roughly 6 people are intimately impacted? The series finale, showing Hannah slitting her wrists in the bathtub, has been heavily criticised. However, writer Nic Sheff defended the decision to include the graphic scene, recalling personal memories whereby he was deterred from a suicide attempt after hearing a survivor’s account of how painful and horrifying it was. I was extremely upset and uncomfortable watching it, but the truth is that’s the reality for some people. Hannah’s mother finds her in the bathtub – a situation many people have been in. It almost lets you empathise for a moment, as you’ve grown so attached to the characters.

The producers had a goal to try and help people in need, which can be seen in the series’ overarching “you’re not alone” message. During the course of the series, several characters failed to pick up on Hannah’s intention to commit suicide, and therefore didn’t offer any help. After watching this series, maybe a bully will think twice about making fun of somebody. Maybe someone will keep an embarrassing secret about their friend. Maybe someone will decide against sending a nasty text message. Maybe someone will not forcefully pursue an unrequited crush. Maybe then you can have a positive impact on everyone. Everyone is worthy of a full life. You’re not alone in your struggles, and there are many more options to escape than suicide. Suicide should never be an option. Many countries have experienced an increased number of calls to suicide hotlines following the series premiere, causing mental health support services to issue warnings about the series. However, I think this should be seen as something positive, as it has clearly encouraged people who need help to speak up.

For all these reasons – and I’m sure I’ve listed more than thirteen – please, head over to Netflix and start watching 13 Reasons Why. You won’t regret it, and it will definitely change your perspective on how to treat people. One of the most important messages within this series is that you never know what a person is going through, so everything you do or say, always matters. I hope you take away a valuable life lesson to be kind, and treat others as you wish to be treated. All these fellow students that impacted Hannah’s decision to take her own life didn’t understand the hurt they were causing. Hannah Baker told her story, which is something most people never get to do, and that’s the upsetting truth. As Clay says himself – “It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.”

Suicide helplines
Samaritans – (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available 365 days year
Childline – (0800 1111) runs a free helpline for children and young people (doesn’t appear on phone bills)
PAPYRUS – (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
Students Against Depression – a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts

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