Why “13 Reasons Why” is Important

Chances are if you haven’t watched Netflix’s new teen drama “13 Reasons Why” you have probably heard about it.

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The series is based on the novel by Jay Asher of the same name, and I pretty much binge watched it in the space of 2 days.

The premise behind the story is a young girl called Hannah commits suicide at the start of the series, and throughout the 13 episodes we follow one of her friends Clay as he listens to Hannah speak to him through cassette tapes she left behind, explaining 13 reasons why she chose to end her own life.

Now, I was pretty excited to delve into this series when I first heard about it. As someone who has suffered with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts I am always optimistic, if not wary, when I see a TV show or film cover this complex topic as it has the ability to bring things into light and get people talking. However, the first few episodes of this little series disappointed me.

Don’t get me wrong, I was interested in certain characters and how their stories would unfold (except Bryce. He was pretty unlikable from the get go) and I felt the underlying vibe that Hannah was narrating us through each scene, taking us into her world through cassette tapes was quite interesting and compelling.

But one thing both myself and my fiancé noticed, was how chipper Hannah sounded in these recordings. Baring in mind when she made these tapes she had already decided she was going to end her life, so presumably she was feeling pretty depressed by this point but there was no indication of that.

Okay I get that having a “mopey” narrator throughout the series would perhaps also not be ideal either from an “audience” perspective, but have some middle ground maybe? She makes no mention of her mental health at that moment in time, or how low she’s feeling, and instead focuses all her attention into explaining each person who did her wrong at the start of her mental decline. This isn’t necessarily wrong either mind you, as the bullying, and “slut shaming” dealt by these people are definitely crucial parts of Hannah’s story, and the early stages of what she identifies herself as a butterfly effect and perhaps she didn’t want to draw attention to how she was feeling, and wanted to focus more on those who did her wrong.

But making very little mention of her embarrassment and shame or a decrease in self-worth felt really unrealistic and like a missed opportunity in explaining the more in-depth feelings behind depression, but I persevered and carried on watching despite my initial thoughts.

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As the series went on, I felt myself settling in. Yes the lines were cheesy, yes there were cliches around every corner and Bryce’s character was still just as awful but it was okay. I was feeling more and more sympathetic for Clay, the guy who loved Hannah from afar and was desperate to just be there for her despite what other people said. He had been sucked into this world he quite frankly was better off not knowing about so he could just mourn the loss of his friend in peace.

Clay discovers he is on tape 11, but Hannah makes it clear he isn’t one of the reasons she “did what she did” although this doesn’t make Clay feel any better. Again, this is something else I struggled with.

The reason Clay is on tape 11 is because Hannah explains how she came to watch one of her friends be sexually assaulted, and the reason she was in the room, alone, hiding in the first place is because she asked Clay to leave her alone in there (which he did) after she couldn’t bare the thought of being intimate with him because of how she had been treated in recent months.

Again, I totally get Hannah’s point of view. When you have been labelled as “easy” and taunted and touched inappropriately, if someone is kissing you it’s definitely a logical reaction to think they only care about sex and not you as an individual. Fair enough, but laying that out to Clay, someone Hannah regularly admits to be the only one she cares about, in the recordings as though his leaving her alone is another part of the ever growing butterfly effect is just wrong. Poor Clay…now he’s got a lifetime of guilt on top of him too…but I digress.

By the final few episodes it seemed clear to me that this show had missed the mark completely on what should have been it’s main focus. Hannah’s decline in mental health.

As I said before there was no mention of her personal shame and embarrassment that she probably would be feeling initially, which would then cause her to feel lower and lower, causing her to ultimately reach the decision to end her own life. There was no physically indication of her decline either, even in the very last episode when she “gives life one more chance” (her words not mine) by talking to the school counsellor about her own recent sexual assault, she is still wearing a face of make up, and is dressed nicely.

Yes I understand that everyone processes trauma very differently to one another, and yes perhaps Hannah’s way of dealing with a horrendous and life changing situation she should never have been put through was to carry on as if nothing happened, but to have her look consistently the same throughout each and every traumatic event in the series just doesn’t add up in my head.

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I could sit here for hours and type out why I felt this show was full of inaccuracies, how they could have made it better and why Bryce is just a terrible, terrible human being…

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…and yet through all of that 13 Reasons Why did actually do something really right.

Like most of us do, throughout my time spent watching this series I would google and wiki all the actors, the tv show, the producers etc, and through doing that I also saw the huge amount of independent blogs and articles on this show. Some slating it for the same reasons I had in my own head and others praising it for it’s frank depiction of teenagers, and how cruel they can be to one another. Some blogs said the final scene when Hannah ends her life by cutting her wrists and laying in a bath was far too graphic, where-as other writers felt it was perfect because it felt so real, despite it being hard to watch.

People were voice their opinions about the show all over, and by doing so, they were talking about mental health and suicide.

This is amazing!

The internet gives us the platform to discuss things to a huge audience of people that we wouldn’t have been able to do before, and this show has poured petrol on the fire and caused more discussions to take place. I haven’t seen a show do that for mental health in a while, and because 13 Reasons Why is being shown on Netflix hundreds of people will be able to access it really easily.

Perhaps some scenes are too much for those who are vulnerable, and could easily be triggers for people too, but for those who can watch it without those reactions it is perhaps a key starting point for them to develop an understanding into mental health and the impact it has on those suffering and those around them. Admittedly the TV show itself doesn’t always portray things as accurately as it perhaps could, and there could have been more research put into the real in-depth parts about Hannah’s mental health, and how those around her reacted to it but maybe this show is crucial for our continuing need to discuss these issues as a group.

It is crucial that we continue to have these discussions to educate those individuals who perhaps have never come into contact with those suffering with a mental health disorder (that they’re aware of).

It is crucial that those suffering with these illness’ continue to voice their own experiences to further help those who are also suffering, so they don’t feel so alone.

And in some weird way it is crucial, if you are in a good enough headspace to do so, to watch 13 Reasons Why.

It will probably annoy you for lots of reasons, and yes I know Bryce is awful, but if you’re like the rest of us and watch a series and do the research around it you will come across some really informative and well thought out articles (like this one I hope) around this show and the themes behind it, leading to more understanding in an issue really close to my heart.

In the words of Clay “It has to get better” and I 100% believe if we continue to talk about these issues…it will get better.

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