I know that not everyone is thrilled with the idea of watching 13 hours of a teenage girl killing herself, because, let’s face it: it can be difficult to watch.
However, it is because it is difficult to watch that everyone should watch it. Yes, the topics of conversation are far from light: bullying, suicide, and sexual assault, but 13 Reasons Why gracefully tackles these difficult conversations in a way that challenges the viewer to change the way they approach these conversations. After all, the human experience is difficult in itself and why should we try to sugar coat that?
Here is a list of 13 important life lessons that can be learned through watching 13 Reasons Why.
1. Bringing awareness to the topic of suicide and suicide prevention is important.
Often, the people who have the power to help individuals who may be suicidal stray away from the topic of suicide simply because it is difficult to talk about. But sometimes an act as simple as starting a conversation about suicide and suicide prevention can save someone’s life. Hannah Baker needed someone to reach out to her about her struggles and to support her in her journey of getting through them. Each one of us has the opportunity to help the Hannah Bakers of this world if we just learn to value the importance of the conversations that no one wants to have and having them anyway.
2. Bullying is never okay.
And being a bystander of bullying isn’t either. Just because you may not be directly bullying someone else, does not mean that you are not indirectly bullying someone else. If you are the peer who laughs at the pictures that get sent around of someone or cheers on the fight that’s going down in the school parking lot, you are just as equally to blame as the bully. By not reporting the incident or doing anything to stand up for the individual being bullied, you are allowing the incident to continue to happen. Stand up for those who were never given the voices to stand up for themselves.
3. School systems need to be more hands-on when it comes to bullying.
I, too, come from a high school that liked to sweep things under the rug that happened to its student, by its students. Things like bullying and harassing, name-calling, sexual misconduct and even assault. School administrators need to start stepping up to the plate and taking care of all of their students, equally. The time for protecting bullies and shaming victims is over. If the school system does nothing to protect its youth from going through the things that Hannah Baker did, what kind of example is that setting for its students?
4. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life.
A theme that we see repeatedly throughout the series and occasionally even quoted by some of the characters, and it’s true. Not everyone wears their struggles on their sleeves for the whole world to see. In fact, it is almost guaranteed that every single person you know in your life is going through at least one struggle that you never even knew about. And that one struggle could be the difference between them choosing to live and taking their own life. As Jay Asher writes, “when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life.” Just be nice to people, to everyone.
5. You should always tell the truth.
Tony Padilla’s character struggles with wanting to do the right thing by Hannah, but sometimes the ‘right thing’ isn’t always what we think it is. Keeping Hannah’s secrets not only damaged Hannah’s family, it damaged Tony too. If someone you know is struggling or having thoughts of hurting themselves or others, you should tell someone. And if you know why that person is struggling or having those thoughts, you should share that too. Sometimes the only consolation one has when losing someone, is understanding how or why it happened and it is only until you understand why or how something happens that you can prevent it from happening in the future.
6. Rape Culture is damaging and victim-blaming is wrong.
I bet any survivors out there who have watched this series wished that someone would have stood up for them the way Clay stood up for Hannah Baker. I know I did. Today’s society has spread this message out there that if someone does not explicitly state that they did not want any sexual advancements to occur, that somehow that means they must have wanted it. That by remaining silent, the victim has given the assaulter the permission to continue with the assault. And when it’s over, we blame the victim, because somehow it was their fault that their attacker abused their power and took advantage of them. But not Clay Jensen. Clay challenged the ideas of rape culture by emphasizing the importance of consent and blaming the only person there is to blame in any sexual misconduct- the assaulter.
7. Consent. Consent. Consent.
No really does mean no, but sometimes silence means no too. Just because someone has not said they do not want a sexual advancement to occur, does not mean they do. If you do not get a clear and fully stated agreement to the sexual advancement, then you do not have any right to make the advancement. Also, consent is not a one time and done thing. If someone changes their mind at any point for any reason during sex, then the sex is no longer consensual and should terminate. If it does not terminate, then it is no longer sex. It is rape.
8. Internalized homophobia is a real thing.
Just ask Courtney Crimson. When you identify as LGBTQA+ in a heteronormative, cisnormative society, it starts to take a toll on the way you view your own identity. You can start to feel like something really is wrong with you. Like there is no way that you could actually be gay because for someone reason society has told you that it’s weird or wrong. But you should know that there isn’t anything wrong with you because of your sexual, romantic, or gender identity and it is normal and okay to be gay. But you should also know that as Hannah Baker herself says, “You don’t get to f*** with my life because you don’t like who you are.” Never take your own rejection of yourself out on others just because you’re too afraid to face who you truly are.
9. Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse and it is okay to walk away.
If you don’t know, gaslighting is when information is twisted or selectively omitted, or false information is shared with the victim in order to make them doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. Justin Foley and Bryce Walker both gaslighted Jessica Davis over the course of the series. Not only did Bryce rape Jessica and Justin allow him to, they then both made her believe that it never really happened, causing her to question both the integrity of her ex-best friend’s story and her own thoughts and recollection. The most important part of all this to highlight, however, is how in the end Jessica left her abusive boyfriend. Even when he made her believe she was his only reason for living, which often abusers will do, Jessica still walked away. And if this is happening or ever happens to you, just know that you should and can walk away too.
10. One person’s pain is no more important than someone else’s pain.
We often highlight the most extreme circumstances as being the most painful and deserving of attention. However, not everyone experiences pain in the most obvious ways. The human experience is much more complex than that. And it is important to note that not everyone who needs help will have had the same experiences as, say, Hannah Baker. There is a common theme among most if not all of the characters within 13 Reasons Why; they were all struggling in their own ways and they too needed help. Maybe if they had gotten that help, things would have ended very differently.
11. Girl vs. Girl culture is tearing women apart and needs to be stopped.
Jessica Davis and Hannah Baker are the perfect examples. Today more than ever women seem to be pinning themselves against other women as if we are all in competition with one another. We have driven ourselves apart more than anyone else within society. We compete over hair, makeup, style, boys, friends- the list is almost never ending. We need to start standing up for one another instead of trying to tear each other down.
12. Change is important. And change is good.
Clay loved Hannah and a part of him will always regret never telling her how he truly felt. That sadness and pain will follow him forever and it will always suck to look back on those moments and remember. But the most significant part of his experience is that he does not let that pain and regret destroy him. Instead, he takes those mistakes and he turns them into lessons learned. He changes the way he treats Skye because he doesn’t want her to get hurt the way Hannah once did. If we can’t look back on our past behaviors and learn to make changes for the better, then we will be stuck in the same rut of mistakes and hurt others and ourselves forever.
13. It’s okay to ask for help.
It’s okay to feel alone. It’s okay to feel sad. And it’s okay to feel nothing at all. But when you are feeling at your wit's end, feeling like you just want to end it all, it’s okay to tell someone. It’s okay to want to get better because you will always deserve the chance to get better. You will always deserve love and happiness, no matter what anyone else has told you or how anyone else has made you feel. No matter what is happening in your life, you do not have to go through it alone. Just because it was too late for Hannah Baker, doesn’t mean it’s too late for you or someone else.