The Portrayal Of Suicide In 13 Reasons Why Is Unacceptable

The Portrayal Of Suicide In 13 Reasons Why Is Unacceptable

If you are considering suicide, there are ways to get help... but 13 Reasons Why portrays suicide as the perfect answer.
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Hailed as a powerful foray into the realm of teenage suicide, on first glance, the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why appears to be exactly that—a wake-up call to parents, teens, teachers and schools everywhere about the warning signs, triggers and causes of teenage suicide, a growing problem throughout America. However, 13 Reasons Why is more than just a warning about our friends, family members, students—it actively promotes suicide as a viable response to normal teenage problems.

Teenagers nowadays have a hard time. With the advent of iPhones and social media, the drama that once stopped at the borders of the schoolyard now follows them home and permeates their houses. Trying to navigate the social pressures, on top of academic pressure and the stress of applying to colleges, can push many teenagers to their breaking points—as in the case of Hannah Baker, a junior trying to survive in a hostile school environment. After suffering social isolation and rejection, failed attempts to reach out to other students and the school counselor, sexual harassment and eventually rape, Hannah Baker makes the choice to take her own life—but she leaves behind 13 cassette recordings, intended for the 13 people she holds personally responsible for her suicide.

The series begins a little while after her suicide with a boy named Clay Jensen, who had crushed on Hannah Baker ever since she moved to town her sophomore year. He receives the cassette tapes anonymously in a package in the mail. Most of Hannah's story is told in flashback as he listens to the tapes. There is no denying that Hannah suffered in her life—she was rejected repeatedly by those she tried to befriend, harassed and taken advantage of by numerous boys, and eventually raped by the captain of the football team—a few weeks after she watched him rape another girl, unconscious, at a party.

However, that is exactly the problem with the series—the 13 tapes act to justify her suicide. The series addresses rampant problems in our schools—problems like bullying, inept school counselors and sexual assault (or at the very least, a twisted understanding of consent)—but it seems to agree with Hannah's decision to kill herself. Millions of teenagers deal with the same problems that Hannah did, but the series, instead of giving those kids a message of hope for the future, promotes suicide. I almost felt like the show was telling me that suicide is an appropriate response to my problems.

13 Reasons Why was trying to call out parents, teachers and teenagers to look for warning signs, to be kind and to be there for your children, students and classmates. But in the process, it sent a subliminal message that if you are that teenager who is considering suicide and you try and fail to reach out to the people around you—it's perfectly okay to commit suicide to resolve your problems. Not only that, but it's also perfectly okay to blame everyone around you.

In the end, almost always, those who are seriously considering suicide are suffering from a mental illness, oftentimes a form of depression. Mental illness isn't a joke or "all in your head"—it's a legitimate problem that you can't deal with on your own. But Hannah never reaches out to her parents, and when she tries and fails to reach out to her school counselor, the series even furthers its negative message—that your school counselor doesn't really care and can't help you. Sure, there are bad school counselors who are unqualified and don't want to help out their students. But that isn't the case for every school counselor, and teenagers who reach out to their school counselors can oftentimes find the help that they need.

There is often an unspoken stigma about suicide, that victims of suicide just wanted attention or that their mental illness isn't "real." Should that be the case? No; people who commit suicide need help, not stigmatization. 13 Reasons Why combated that stigmatization... by pushing blame the other way. Instead of blaming Hannah, the series blamed all the people around her who "failed" her. Were a lot of the people on her tapes awful to her? Absolutely. But in the end not one of them held a gun to her head and forced her to cut her wrists. Not one of them gave her the razor blades or forced her to do it. It was Hannah's choice. She needed help; she didn't get it; and suicide was her answer. She should have reached out to her parents, in the same way that those people around her should have reached out to her and should have seen the signs. But no one is to blame. Suicide is a tragedy—a preventable tragedy, with the right help—but nonetheless a tragedy. Hannah doesn't deserve to be blamed any more than the people around her.

With that said, there were characters that did awful things to her, and they should be held accountable for their actions. For example, Bryce Walker, who we saw raped at least two girls, should be prosecuted. Gossip and rumor-spreading should be addressed with all high school students—because everyone is guilty of it at one point or another. But that doesn't mean that we should hold those other people directly accountable for someone's suicide. There is always more we can do to help people who are considering suicide, in the same way that there is always more the victim can do to try to reach out and find help. Suicide is a tragedy for everyone involved, not a crime to those who could have stopped it, but 13 Reasons Why perpetuated it as such.

Overall, 13 Reasons Why made a point about looking for the signs and being there for your peers and children. But on the topic of suicide, it failed utterly and gave a dangerous message—that suicide is justifiable, even inevitable. Hannah Baker's death was not justifiable, nor was it inevitable; if you are considering suicide, there are ways to get help and to improve your situation, and 13 Reasons Why portrayed her problems as unbearable, her feelings as unresolvable, neither of which is true. I just hope that the teenagers watching it are aware of that and know to get help before they turn to suicide.

Cover Image Credit: Refinery29

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black and white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble; and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time, until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling; whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die," or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you, you are not alone.

If you're thinking about hurting yourself please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help it out there and you are not alone.


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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Some Of Us Need Suicidal Thoughts To Fuel Our Fight To Stay Alive

You're walking down a pier and you hope someone pulls you back to the sand.

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I have suicidal thoughts but I don't want to die. It's just like swimming underwater but coming back up for air. To be completely honest, I have attempted suicide, and I don't feel relieved or anything like that. I feel like it was a cry for help that people chose to ignore.

Many people say that suicide is selfish, but it isn't.

Like I said in an earlier article about Kate Spade, I described suicide as, "Some are too far down a path that doesn't allow you to turn around. I believe that everyone that suffers from depression is in a line, this line is headed towards a sea and you can't look up or around you because there is a heavy force weighing down your head. You are walking and walking until you finally feel your feet hitting a pier and you can either jump and end it all or you can hope to God the person behind you wraps their arms around you and brings you back. Kate didn't have anyone that could wrap their arms around her and bring her back to the sand. We could all learn a valuable lesson from Mrs. Spade, no matter how successful you are, mental illness doesn't avoid the well-off. But always remember, there are multiple people there to pull you back to the sand."

I had to claw for the people in my life to pull me back to the sand for months, it wasn't until a couple months into college I found that person.

Earlier I referenced that having suicidal thoughts but not wanting to die was kinda like swimming underwater but coming up for air. This comes from you feeling like you are drowning but you know that you will be able to surface soon and beat your thoughts. As soon as you break the water, you feel a sense of relief, however, that feeling can be temporary. Some people have felt like not coming up is going to be easier than surfacing, but I've seen both sides. I know it is easier to stay under and take a deep breath, but there are so many people that are there to pull you back to the sand when you feel you're most alone.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW ARE STRUGGLING WITH SUICIDAL THOUGHTS AND/OR TENDENCIES, REACH OUT IMMEDIATELY. NO ONE SHOULD GO THROUGH THIS ALONE. SUICIDE IS SERIOUS.

National Suicide Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255 - available 24/7

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