You've asked, you've asked, and you've asked. So finally, here are my thoughts on 13 Reasons Why.
If you haven't heard of it already, Netflix has released an original show called 13 Reasons Why. There's been a lot of press about it (mostly negative), and I've been asked by teens, parents, and everyone else about whether they should watch it or not. Why would everyone be asking me? This show is about a teenager, Hannah, who kills herself and leaves a set of 13 tapes for the people who she blames for leading her to this terrible decision. Yeah. If you couldn't tell, it's a very dark show which deals with many heavy issues. I have a lot of thoughts on the show and was on a 90-minute panel discussing the show last week, but I've broken it down into three main parts. Was the show accurate, could it help teens, or will it cause more harm than good?
So was it accurate? The answer is complicated. Hannah did present many classic signs of depression. She thought everyone hated her, she withdrew from everyone, and kept how she was feeling secret. And when the school administration was explaining the signs of depression to the students and parents, they gave the real signs of teen depression. The problem I had with the show was as the story progressed and you saw flashbacks of Hannah before she killed herself, she didn't quite portray "normal" teen depression. Of course, everyone experiences depression in their own way, but I was questioning myself about halfway through the show whether she was actually depressed or just wanted some attention. By the end of the show, I was actually annoyed with Hannah, a feeling I've never had for anyone who's suffering from mental health challenges. This is not a good thing when we're talking about real depression because we don't want to leave the viewer with the impression that whoever attempts suicide is a drama queen. So does it accurately portray mental illness? I'd give it a 50-50.
So, okay. Maybe the show doesn't completely describe mental illness, but the proponents of the show say it's spreading awareness of the reality of teen depression, bullying, and suicide. I couldn't find any data on that, but I do know how I responded to it and how other teens who have watched it have reacted. This show made me depressed, and I was feeling anxious watching the first episode because I knew what awaited me. It had significant amounts of drugs, language, sex, and violence. It definitely was not a show for kids. So as I'm watching this, I was trying to figure out how it could help someone. It gave an iffy demonstration of depression at best, and it didn't give any hope. It ends with her graphically killing herself, and this was my biggest problem with the show. Maybe if they showed some kind of hope at the end, I would have been more okay with this. So it didn't entirely represent the reality of mental illness, and the message I received from the film is that if you're suffering, the way to end the pain is suicide. I hope we can all agree that's a terrible message to give the depressed teens watching this.
In addition to there being no hope, nobody in the film gets help (with the possible exception of Jessica who talks to her dad at the very end). You never see an option being therapy, medication, or the numerous other options such as the ones detailed in my ebook. And if you don't give hope or show the audience how you can overcome this, I don't see how 13 Reasons could help somebody who's in the depths of depression. Of course, I'm sure there are some cases where someone was inspired by this (and in fact, you can see those cases in the panel I was on to discuss this show), but I feel that more people were hurt because of this show that helped. Like I said, it made me depressed and anxious. I have lots of experience in keeping myself mentally healthy. Imagine a depressed teen who has none of those resources or experience watching this. I don't see it ending well. (And in fact, there's a news story circulating about a young man who allegedly copycatted the show)
And maybe right now you're telling me that I, as a young adult, aren't in the target audience. Depressed teens or bullies were the target audience, you might say. Okay, so I haven't personally heard from any bullies, but I have heard from many teenagers who said that the show made them mentally and even physically sick. One going as far as throwing up at the final suicide scene. So it's not just me.
Also, my good friend, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, wrote an article covering how the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) advises preventing a suicide cluster which happens when one suicide triggers a mass of other suicides. It's not much of a surprise that 13 Reasons gets almost every single point wrong. So I've sure you've heard this if you've read any other reviews of 13 Reasons Why, but I give it big thumbs down. I don't think this is healthy or educational when it comes to mental illness. If you're looking education, you can literally Google the word depression and you will be given symptoms, treatments, and resources. You don't need 13 Reasons Why for education.
There is one redeeming factor of the show. This was brought up at the panel I mentioned above by an audience member. She said this, "Many people say the show is bad because it makes you feel bad. But isn't it a good thing that we're feeling for someone who's been bullied, assaulted, depressed, and suicidal?"
This struck me. And really changed my perspective a little on the show. I still think it's dangerous for a teen to watch without someone older to guide them through the tough parts of the show, but I wouldn't call the show "bad". Just like any other thing in the world, it has its ups and downs. If you're a parent, it might be beneficial to watch this to help you understand what teens are going through in today's world.
To sum it all up, if it's harming your mental health, stay away from it. But if it's not, then maybe it will be a light for you.