Suicide misrepresented in “13 Reasons Why”

Columnist Olivia Hunt

Columnist Olivia Hunt

The new Netflix Original Series, “13 Reasons Why,” has been widely successful and considered binge-worthy by many. It was adapted from a novel written by Jay Asher in 2007.
The series follows teenager Hannah Baker and the events that follow her suicide through the medium of cassette tapes.
The show has received praise for starting a conversation about teen suicide, a topic that is typically avoided in media text.
When initially hearing about the adaptation, I was skeptical after recalling my indifference with the book as a teenager. For days I had been receiving countless recommendations for the show, so I hesitantly gave it a chance. Five minutes in, I already knew I had made a mistake. Apart from some very serious problems the series displays, it comes off as extremely cheesy and unauthentic.
Like many other Netflix original series, “13 Reasons Why” is yet another way for Netflix to avoid subscription cancellations by exploiting a sensitive topic.
Stepping back from the position of devil’s advocate, the series has been in the works for several years.During which writers and producers, such as Selena Gomez, met with leading experts regarding sensitive topics the series touches upon.
One would assume that because of this there would be an accurate portrayal of suicide and mental illness in a way that comes off as authentic and non-triggering.
It does the opposite.
“13 Reasons Why” essentially violates every guideline for portraying suicide in the media. The series has received criticism for dangerously glamorizing suicide and insinuating that an individual’s mental illness can be blamed on others.
The way the plot is set up, the audience is being narrated by Hannah’s voice post-suicide.
This fictional aspect implies that suicide isn’t permanent, which is dangerous for someone watching who may be having suicidal thoughts.
According to Headspace, an Australian mental health foundation, any media that describes suicide methods has the potential to trigger those at risk.
“Young people are not that great at separating fiction from reality,” according to Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. “That gets even harder to do when you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts.”
Hannah’s suicide was filmed graphically, which was done on purpose according to the author. What may have begun as a wholesome attempt to bring awareness to an important issue ultimately resulted in a complete disconnect.
Clinical Psychologist John Mayer calls the show, “a sad exploitation of a devastating problem among our youth. I don’t see the value in it expect to sensationalize teenage suicide.”
Hannah uses the tapes to get revenge on those who she felt had contributed to her decision. This embodies the idea that it’s someone’s job to make your life worth living.
The series commercializes on suicide, giving off the false notion that perhaps Clay Jensen’s love could have saved her. Hannah’s struggle with mental illness takes place off screen and is not discussed.
In addition, the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide warn against blaming a suicide on any one thing, since there are typically multiple causes.
“13 Reasons Why” fails to provide a viable alternative to Hannah’s suicide. She hides her feelings from her parents and friends and when confiding in the school counselor, is dismissed and told her issues are her own fault.
This sends a horrible message and could prevent someone in need of help from reaching out for help.
Although the series has some major problems in relation to a genuine portrayal of mental illness and suicide, it touches on serious issues that affect the exact demographic the show is geared towards.