If you haven’t seen the countless memes, the posts, the reviews or the clips from Netflix’s new series ’13 Reasons Why’, then let me catch you up. Having watched the entire series, and read a share of positive and negative reviews of the show online, I figured I’d give my two cents. There are a lot of positive and negative aspects about the show, so before I begin I will say this once and once only, there are major spoilers ahead so if you haven’t finished the show yet please close this article, go back to your Netflix tab, and finish it.
First of all, this is not a show for the faint hearted, there are scenes that are graphic. While there are trigger warnings ahead of these episodes, nothing can prepare you for the scenes you are about to see. They depict rape, self harm and suicide. This is not your average teen drama, this story is heavy and it sheds an entirely new light on mental health and suicide among young adults. The show’s biggest success was in highlighting the lack of resources available in schools. There are few support networks out there, and I think the show is clever in how it represents that. The school counsellor was so overwhelmed that he didn’t see Hannah was struggling, he didn’t do anything, even though there were rumours being spread about her, she didn’t have many friends to talk to, and it was obvious that she was in pain.
On the other hand, one of the show’s most criticised aspects was its romanticisation of the revenge suicide plot. A lot of the reviews I’ve seen online attack the show and the story itself over this. I’m not condoning the tapes, I personally believe had Hannah gotten the support she needed, they wouldn’t even exist, but this show isn’t a perfect portrayal of mental health. It doesn’t try to romanticise suicide, the whole message of the show was to highlight the effect our words and actions can have on a person’s mental health and well-being. The tapes tell the story, and while it is cruel revenge on the people that scorned her in the past, it was her story to tell, as twisted a method as it may be. Unless you have stood in her shoes, gone through the trauma and pain that she went through, I don’t think its fair to say what she did was too far, to her this was the only thing she could do and that’s why the show is so powerful. It shows someone who is broken, it shows what they feel they have to resort to just to get someone to listen. I don’t think she wanted revenge, it appears that way in the show, but I think her goal was to draw out the truth, to expose the real secrets that were hidden amongst this group. I think her suicide could have been stopped had she opened up to someone, like Clay, her story is tragic and there are moments when it spirals and you feel for her character, she has to go through the toughest time of her life, alone.
I don’t agree with the rationale of some of the tapes, personally I believe Alex, Clay and Zach don’t belong on the tapes. I know Alex was cruel with that list and it led to a chain of events that ended their friendship, but it was a name on a list, which is hurtful but I think their friendship could have survived that had they communicated more and been more open with each other. Clay shouldn’t have to listen to these tapes, he is the one person who cared for her and making him listen to the tapes, while it served a purpose, felt unnecessary at times. Also, Zach was actually looking out for her, he did not deserve to get yelled at in the cafeteria, he didn’t stalk her, humiliate her, he just wanted to date her. Unlike the likes of Tyler, Bryce, Justin, Marcus and Courtney.
This show isn’t perfect, but it is a stepping stone in reducing the stigma associated with mental health through TV and film. While there are some flaws, like any new series, it does have the potential to spread the message that even when you think there is no future for you, your circumstances can changes at any moment. Had she left high-school and gone on to college maybe she would have seen that. It is a cautionary tale, to watch out for your peers, if they are in trouble something as simple as asking if they’re okay could go a long way. While the ending of this series is grim, it does leave an opening for a second season, I won’t give away too much but it looks like a reckoning of mass proportion is about to begin. Our perception of depression and mental health has been clouded lately with this new wave of mental illness fans, it appears nearly all of us have some form of anxiety or depression, these self-diagnosed cases are part of the reason why mental health still has a stigma surrounding it. For those who have been diagnosed and are seeking treatment I applaud you, because our mental health shouldn’t be the latest trend or hash-tag, it should be something we take care of, a priority.
13 Reasons Why starts a conversation about mental health, the show doesn’t cover all its bases, that much is true, but it is trying to break that wall, it is part of a new wave of understanding. If you take anything away from the show, just treat each other with some respect because we never truly know what the other person is going through.
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