Even if you’ve not watched 13 Reasons Why, you’ve probably heard of the Netflix series adapted from the Young Adult novel that focuses on the suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Having taken her life, it’s revealed that Hannah has left behind a series of tapes to tell the people in her life how they contributed towards her suicide.
Whilst the show was praised by many viewers as a source of entertainment, not everyone liked what it did narratively. Some members of the mental health community and suicide prevention groups spoke out about the show as being problematic, reported here in the Guardian. Returning for a second season this week, the discussions about 13 Reasons Why and its potential to impact people with suicidal feelings have arisen once again.
The biggest issue is that the story appears to glorify suicide, making the act seem like something dramatic that can be used as a form of revenge against those who do you wrong.
The series is about a suicide, yet has very little to say about the reality of the act, particularly the psychology behind it. The audience don’t know the real Hannah Baker, they didn’t get to see her before everything fell apart for her. Suicide is a result of a culmination of events, but 13 Reasons Why doesn’t tell us this, it just shows the end result.
The danger that Netflix must mitigate against in the second season is that it can appear to some viewers as if suicide is the one and only response to the issues that Hannah faces. Young people suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts may see the way the series paints suicide as the ultimate act of revenge, which isn’t how suicide works at all. Suicide does affect those people left behind, yes, but not in the ways that the show portrays. 13 Reasons Why is a fantasy and has very little semblance on reality.
Hannah believes that people have done her harm and responds to this by forging a plan to get her own back against them by taking her life, reinforcing the notion that suicide is often undertaken for selfish reasons. In reality, people with suicidal thoughts often feel more hopeless and burdensome instead of crafting elaborate plans for revenge. Personally, I find it hard to believe that someone who is that close to suicide would have the energy or motivation to craft such an elaborate plan.
There are many factors that lead to suicide, including prior attempts, substance and drug abuse, mental illness, and family history, but the show only focuses on interpersonal stressors between Hannah and her friends. It is important to highlight to viewers that although the series tries to paint a straight line between bullying and sexual assault and suicide, it isn’t that simple in real life.
13 Reasons Why doesn’t just romanticise suicide, but it fails to inform viewers clearly enough about the warning signs during the episodes, which paints suicide in a very dangerous and irresponsible way.