I have a problem. I’m compulsively driven to read the comments on every 13 Reasons Why article that crosses my Facebook feed. I know, I KNOW, I should know better, but here we are.
The one thing this practice has given me (other than stress-induced migraines) is a singular insight into the types of comments these articles inspire. All thirteen of them (HA!). Because every comment defending 13 Reasons Why against BLASPHEMOUS criticisms levelled by THOSE ASSHOLE mental health and suicide prevention experts comes in a finite number of variations.
So here I am, answering each one so I can maybe exorcise myself of the need to repeat myself in 7347687346 reply threads.
Warning: I’m about to hit on themes of suicide and self harm. I’m also going to talk about the final episode so: spoilers.
“Everyone should watch this show because it shows that actions—and inactions—have consequences.” aka. “Bullying is bad, yo.”
I see a lot of people rhapsodising about the importance of the messages in 13 Reasons Why for characters like Clay or those who harassed and bullied Hannah, but they seem to screech to a mental halt before considering the messages it’s sending to people who identify with Hannah herself. Ultimately, this is a show about a girl who commits suicide, and then is heard and understood by the people in her life after the fact. Hannah is depicted as being given “resolution” posthumously. That is a seriously fucked up message to send to someone considering ending their life.
The reality is this: if you commit suicide, you don’t get a resolution. You’re just dead. The people left behind can learn 738764568 super important lessons but it doesn’t negate the fact you’re gone and will never see or benefit from any changes of heart or mind you may have “inspired”. Saying otherwise is gross at best, and dangerous at worst.
“Showing suicide doesn’t make more people commit suicide, that’s dumb.”
Yes. It does. It’s called suicide contagion and it’s a very real, very dangerous reality. Studies show that suicide numbers spike after reports or portrayals of suicide in mass media. The effect is so well documented that media outlets have guidelines they must follow in order to ethically report on instances of suicide. Guidelines 13 Reasons Why shat all over in a number of ways, FYI.
“But they worked with mental health and suicide prevention experts so therefore everything they did was completely okay.”
The word your looking for is “consulted”. The show consulted mental health and suicide prevention experts. What this means is those experts could make suggestions and recommendations – suggestions and recommendations the show runners had the power to take on board or fling off a cliff. Given the content of the show—particularly the graphic suicide scene in the final episode—I’d say quite a few of those recommendations were passed over in the name of artistic licence.
“I know x number of people with mental illnesses that have reached out for help because of this show.”
That’s nice, Trevor. But even if some people are using the show as an opening to talk about their mental health, it doesn’t justify even ONE person reacting adversely enough to attempt suicide. There are ways in which 13 Reasons Why could have opened the floor to important discussions without endangering lives, but the show runners decided entertainment was more important than that niggling ol’ suicide prevention thing.
“I have a mental illness and was FINE watching this show.”
Good for you, Sharon. I’d like to remind you that you’re one person. Just because you’re not one of the growing number of people calling into mental health and suicide prevention hotlines as a direct result of viewing the show, this does not mean those people do not exist.
“If people are calling into suicide prevention hotlines because of the show doesn’t that mean it’s HELPING them reach out??”
Not if those calls are necessitated BECAUSE of the shows content. It’s no secret this show ignored a number of guidelines authored by mental health and suicide prevention experts that are shown to decrease the risk of suicide contagion. Given that prominent suicide prevention organisations (including headspace and mindframe) have issued official warnings about the content of the show, I’d say it’s a safe bet the majority of the calls they’re getting aren’t indicative of the show’s positive influence.
“There are trigger warnings on the episodes, if you don’t think you can deal with it, don’t watch it.”
Here’s the thing, Christy. To be able to avoid or prepare for potential triggers you need to know what those triggers are. A lot of people – kids mostly – dealing with suicidal ideation don’t have the support or experience to understand when or why certain media can adversely affect them. That’s why those guidelines I keep mentioning are in place for media coverage and/or depictions of suicide – specifically to reduce the impact on vulnerable people.
“I watched this with my blahteen year old and had a super excellent discussion about mental illness because of it.”
Jesus Christ, Steve. I’ll reiterate: the positive influences of this show do not negate its dangers. How about you find other ways to have an honest conversation with your child without defending a show that literally puts peoples’ lives at risk.
“I have a mental illness and/or have been suicidal and therefore know more than the professionals expressing concern about the show’s content.”
Oh boy, Tiffany… While I agree that the mental health system could benefit from listening more to the lived experiences of those with mental health issues, this does not negate the literal decades of research they have backing them up in this instance. This isn’t your therapist refusing to believe you have PTSD, these are organisations whose main purpose is the prevention of suicide. They know their shit, and when they say that 13 Reasons Why is dangerous, they have the data to back up their statements.
“There’s no way the suicide scene in the final episode would encourage people to commit suicide – it was hella disturbing.”
I’ve addressed this one in another article already but I’ll cliffs notes it here: To anyone who’s not self harmed or considered suicide, I’m sure the suicide scene in 13 Reasons Why would appear hella off-putting. As someone who’s done both, that scene made Hannah’s suicide look disgustingly easy. Where others saw nothing but pain and blood, I—and others like me, I’m sure—saw less than thirty seconds of pain, another thirty of waiting and then nothing. Leaving aside the fact suicide by the method depicted is actually far more technically difficult, infinitely more painful, and substantially longer than 13 Reasons Why showed it to be (realistic my ass), choosing to depict it at all was—I would argue—the most dangerous move the show made. Every single expert in the field will tell you the same thing: never graphically depict the suicide. 13 Reasons Why didn’t just ignore that guideline, they snapped it over their knee and set fire to it.
“It was a book first – why is everyone all up in arms now it’s a show?”
Glad you asked, Timothy. For one thing, the suicide method is different in the book. The show has Hannah cut her wrists, while the book has her die by taking pills. I’ll give you three guesses why and the first two don’t count. For another, as a mainstream show on one of the most popular networks in the world, the show has a lot more reach and is far more accessible. The more people it reaches, the more people it affects, the more people talk about it.
“How is this any worse than graphic sexual assault and violence in other shows?”
It’s not. Which is why shows like Game of Thrones and American Horror Story have been slammed for their own representation of those issues. It’s almost like people can care about more than one thing at a time. Wild.
“If watching a show is enough to make you commit suicide then you’re weak/a lemming etc etc.”
Burn in hell.
There we are. I’m sure as the show continues to attract (very deserved) criticism, I may find myself sucked back into the horrors of Facebook’s reply threads. For now I can only hope my soul is temporarily purged of this blight.
If you need to reach out there are resources available: