LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Why I'm not watching '13 Reasons Why'
Editor's note: The author's name has been withdrawn to protect their identity.
“13 Reasons Why” starts simply, with view of a makeshift locker memorial and a voiceover from the main character, Hannah Baker. Hannah has just committed suicide and is communicating with the show’s characters through a series of tapes detailing why she decided to take her own life.
Or at least that’s what I’ve heard.
I haven’t watched the show, and never will. As someone who struggles with depression and has had suicidal thoughts, I know that watching this show would trigger me and send me spiraling because of the graphic nature of the suicide scene. The scene is so graphic, in fact, that it violates the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s guidelines for reporting or depicting suicide. The guidelines say that “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.” By graphically showing Hannah’s suicide onscreen, “13 Reasons Why” irresponsibly puts many people at risk for suicide.
Honestly, I got lucky. I didn’t know what “13 Reasons Why” was about until I saw an article on “The Mighty” detailing its flaws, which is why I started advocating against the show. I’ve been looking for a new show on Netflix, and I almost clicked on the title a couple of times because I’d heard it was thrilling. If I had, I know that I wouldn’t have handled it well at all, given the state of my mental health. I’m also lucky because I have a good support system around me. Not everyone is so fortunate. When I tell people that this show is going to kill people, I’m not overstating the issue. This show will kill or at the very least hurt many people like me—people with mental illnesses, the very people the show claims to represent. What’s the point of representation if it’s sensationalized and actively hurting people? Simply, entertainment for those who can watch it safely. And those people generally aren’t people with mental illnesses.
There is also a deep problem with the nature of the representation of people with mental illnesses in this show. Hannah seems to commit suicide as an act of revenge. This paints a grim picture for people like me. Revenge is an oversimplification of the complex factors that lead to most suicides, and it scares me that so many people who have watched this show think that it is accurate.
Additionally, the show fails to depict any healthy or successful help-seeking. None of the teens, Hannah included, find adults in the lives who are able to help them through their problems. This is a problem because it sends the message that getting help isn’t worth it. I can promise that it actually is, and this message should not be sent.
One of the arguments that I’ve heard most in favor of “13 Reasons Why” is that it’s teaching people what it feels like to be bullied, sexually assaulted and driven to commit suicide. I know that it’s difficult to understand those topics, but there has to be a better way to learn about them. Do research. Learn from personal testimonies. Watch “Audrie and Daisy,” a Netflix documentary about the same topics as “13 Reasons Why” that doesn’t sensationalize the themes. Create a space for people with mental illnesses to talk about their experiences and listen to them, instead of trying to represent us without understanding. Fund counseling services.
Basically, you shouldn’t need to watch “13 Reasons Why” to learn that people with mental illnesses and suicidal thoughts are humans who deserve to be listened to and represented accurately. You shouldn’t need to watch a show that’s going to kill people to learn to treat people with respect and love, no matter what.
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