The wildly popular and controversial Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” centers around Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a teenager who ultimately commits suicide and leaves thirteen tapes behind explaining the reasons why she did so.
When this 13 episode series aired on Netflix, I heard some conversations amongst friends. I had to see what all the fuss was about. "13 Reason Why" deals with suicide and sexual assault in a frank and open way that has caused mixed reactions. Though I was hesitant to watch the series because of the heavy content, I watched it from a critical standpoint and to be a part of the conversations it encourages.
"13 Reasons Why" was dark, heavy, emotionally draining, and hard to watch. I’m still scared of the emotional impact this show can have on those who are struggling- but we must talk about the issues that are highlighted in this critical series. I am still processing the show- and I certainly have some thoughts. Be warned- there are some spoilers to follow.
1. If you watch "13 Reasons Why", watch the entire series.
“13 Reasons Why” is a difficult series to watch, and takes some emotional strength due to the heavy content. Ultimately, I think there is value in watching the series. The only way to truly understand the entire message of the show and everything it tries to get across is to watch all 13 episodes, including the “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons” short documentary, also on Netflix.
The documentary helps you begin to understand what the producers wanted to accomplish and why. I didn’t really begin to understand Hannah's character until the fifth or sixth episode, and was horrified at the sheer downward spiral that ensued in her life. I initially thought the way she was treated and the things that happened to her weren’t so awful, but as I got more information I found her story to be incredibly heartbreaking. Of course, if you feel emotionally depressed or watching the show is too difficult, then please do not engage in watching the series- but engage in the critical conversation that arises.
2. Suicide is in no way romantic or glamorous- and "13 Reasons Why" depicts this well.
Hannah made 13 tapes that called out 13 people for things they did that she explains led to her commit suicide. This is Hannah’s way of being heard when she felt as though she couldn’t be heard in real life. People have criticized this for making it seem like engaging in this sort of planning for a suicide is tragically beautiful and is a way to get revenge.
Suicide is never romantic or glamorous.
Suicide is tragic and negatively affects those who love you. Suicide is one of the worst possible choices someone can make- and I think the series makes that crystal clear. Hannah may have chosen to teach the people who hurt her a lesson in some sense, but that doesn't make her suicide any less tragic or horrific. Anyone who has seen the final episode can attest to the heartbreaking, uncomfortable depiction of the tragedy. It was awful, and made me absolutely sick to my stomach. I just wanted to tell Hannah to stop and that there was hope for her- even if she didn't realize it. In no way did her suicide seem glamorous or romantic.
3. Suicide is selfish.
After watching the series, one of the only things I can think about is how selfish suicide is. Many people treated Hannah terribly, but she still had people who loved her and would have moved the world for her. The point is that those who commit suicide I genuinely don’t think understand the extent to how much they might affect the people in their life when they make the choice to take their life. Hannah had so much potential and talent- she could have accomplished incredible things in her life.
People don't commit suicide because they are intending to be selfish. I think Hannah feels as though she is a burden to those around her, and is doing people a favor by ending her life. The reality is that by committing suicide, she is doing no favors for anyone. As someone who has struggled with feeling like a burden to others, I felt Hannah's emotions in my core. As a teenager, it's easy to feel like the world would be better off without you. If you're reading this and are struggling with these thoughts, just know – the world is simply better off with you in it.
4. Surround yourself with people in your life who love and care about you.
I am blessed with amazing friends and family and have had incredible life experiences. I have wanted for nothing. Not everyone is so lucky. Even with those blessings, I still have a hard time maintaining positivity and solid mental health sometimes. The reality is that everyone has different struggles that they undergo. We have to focus on the good parts of life, and hold onto friends and family who lift us up and support us.
If you feel as though you don’t have those people, I pray you find people you feel like you can rely on and trust. Hannah had people who loved her, but thought she was a burden and that they would be better off without her. Life holds so many beautiful and wonderful moments and opportunities, especially after high school. Life will never stop being a challenge or being hard, but it’s a little easier surrounded by people who love you.
5. Hannah should have done more to save herself.
Hannah goes and tries to get help. She tries to explain what happened to her in what she claims is an act of giving life one last chance. She doesn’t get a proper or validating response from the counselor, Mr. Porter (Derek Luke). Hannah gives up. Hannah should have done more and fought harder, but I don’t think she knew how. As book author Jay Asher puts it in the "13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons" documentary- "that’s kind of the point". Hannah is prideful, and wants someone to save her, which is a lot of pressure to put on someone. There are people that loved her and would have done anything to help her through her pain.
However, people can’t read minds. As a culture, we have to shift toward one that allows us to honestly express pain and hurt without being reprimanded or criticized. We need to be a little vulnerable and let down our pride in order to process our feelings and work through the tough moments. I'm guilty of letting my pride stop me from revealing how I'm truly feeling. People’s feelings are real, and people cope with experiences differently. What may not hurt you may be devastating to someone else. Respecting people's struggles has to be important when we interact with each other.
6. Sometimes people don't know how to ask for help- we need to change that.
People are really good at crying out for help in subtle ways. Hannah was a master at this. There are several instances in which she clearly shows she needs help but doesn’t come forth and claim her feelings explicitly. When she starts to open up, she is shut down and feels hurt by the response she gets. For those that don’t know how to ask for help when they need it, we need to show them that it’s fine to honestly express feelings by being understanding of other people’s feelings.
Basically, we need to love people better by trying to help our friends and family process what’s happening in their lives. At the same time, people have to be willing to talk about that and seek humility. It’s OK not to be OK. No one has it together all the time, even though we like to make it appear as though we do.
Part of it is on us to surround ourselves with people who care and are invested in making sure that we live up to the best versions of ourselves. Part of it is on us to be that person and friend for people who cares and is a positive force who they can look to when needed. We have to be responsible for our own happiness and not put that burden on someone else. Let’s treat each other well by being honest with each other.
7. Everyone copes with harassment and guilt differently.
Everyone experiences some sort of mistake, regret, or harassment in life. Hannah’s guilt in how she reacts to a couple horrific situations is part of the reason she commits suicide- even though in some instances she did the right thing, or at least tried to. While I am mostly referring to instances of rape and sexual assault in the series, there are some other instances in which Hannah messes up that cause her a lot of guilt. Hannah’s character is criticized for not stopping her friend Jessica (Alisha Boe) from getting raped when she very well could have tried. I would like to say that if I was in this same situation as Hannah (I hope no one ever is), I would step up and stop it.
If I’m being honest- I’m not sure how I would react if I were Hannah. I know how I would want to react. Rape is so sickening and awful, and obviously should be stopped. It’s also easy to have a frozen or flight reaction, which is what Hannah experiences during Jessica’s rape as well as her own. Sometimes doing the right thing is not always easy, but Hannah always was striving to do the right thing (until the end of her life).
I hope that if you are reading this, you never have experienced or will never have to experience any instances of sexual assault or rape. It’s also OK that you are affected differently than someone else- and I hope if you are a survivor or witness of sexual assault or rape that you have the courage to speak out.
8. The value in this show comes from the awareness it raises regarding suicide, sexual assault, and mental health.
Though the show has been on Netflix for a while, the conversation is still relevant. Season two is coming, and we will inevitably be able to see (hopefully) the consequences that certain characters face for their actions. I hope that this show is one that continues to produce meaningful and important conversations that continue to happen, even if you didn’t watch the show. Mental and emotional health are perhaps instances the show could touch on more purposefully in future seasons.
In my opinion, the first season was very heavily focused on sexual assault, rape, and suicide, with some mental health and emotional intelligence aspects. I hope future seasons will continue to spark the realization that life is hard, and we have to find ways to take care of ourselves and each other. "13 Reasons Why" makes me want to start caring more about my own emotional and mental health as well as the emotional and mental health of my friends and family.
9. The way you treat other people matters.
People will never forget how you made them feel (thank you, Maya Angelou). I think we all have more an impact on each other than we realize. Clearly, the students in the series had a greater and more tragic effect on Hannah's life than they ever realized or thought possible. Take the time to be kind to someone, and genuinely care about them. Take the time to understand how people feel loved, and how you best show love. Help people understand why they are incredible. Help them understand their worth. It doesn’t take much. Kindness goes a long way.
10. Some people are not so lucky with the life experiences they are dealt.
Another thing that struck me about this show was the hard lives that some of the characters lead. I would argue that some characters (i.e. Justin, played by Brandon Flynn) lead harder lives than Hannah’s. Some characters have to grow up way too quickly and have family that doesn’t care for them as they should. Hannah did have fantastic parents and a good life, and yet she was the one who committed suicide.
Again, I acknowledge that Hannah also had horrific instances. This just demonstrates that what you make of your experience matters. Some people are dealt tough cards, but all we can do is care for each other and be there for each other. No one ever promised that life would be easy. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
11. "It has to get better- the way we treat each other and look out for each other." -Clay
Clay (Dylan Minnette) expresses the heart of the show in the most memorable line from the final episode. Need I say more?
12. Survivors of sexual assault must be believed and validated.
What happened to Hannah and Jessica should never happen to anyone. There are no excuses for rape. None. Zero. Hannah didn't stop Jessica's rape, and it took Jessica a while to come forward once she came to terms with what happened to her. Hannah tried harder to explain to someone what happened, but was told to "move on". "13 Reasons Why" contains some graphic rape scenes which clearly show the disturbing and horrific nature of rape.
Survivors of rape and sexual assault need to be believed and validated, and they need to be supported and protected when they come forward. Society can weigh heavy and place so much shame on those who are raped. This is not fair- no one ever “asks for it”. If someone has the courage to express their experience, don’t shut them down.
13. Education is the key to helping those who need it- and it's ok if you need help.
One of best things about “13 Reasons Why” is the education that the show brings and the awareness it raises regarding suicide, sexual assault, and mental health. Yes, "13 Reasons Why" is difficult to watch, but that is also the point of the show. Please educate yourself on these concepts, what they mean, and how to help prevent suicide and sexual assault- you could save someone’s life.
For more information on sexual assault, go to http://www.itsonus.org/. To contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-8255 or online chat (available 24 hours a day).