Disclaimer: If you or someone you know is in crisis, there are resources available to you. Canadians should visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention if you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you’re located in the United States.

If you’ve been paying attention to the media as of late, you may have heard of Netflix’s new original series 13 Reasons Why. There has been a lot of speculation about this show since it was released, most of which has come from parents showing concern towards their children watching it. If you don’t know already, 13 Reasons Why is about a high school girl who committed suicide after being bullied at school and going through a number of difficult times.

As someone who does suffer from mental illness (you can learn more about that in my post Drowning in the Stigma of Mental Illness), I wanted to know exactly what all of the hype was about. I was interested to weigh in on the topic on here, so last week I took it upon myself to watch the entire series (there are 13 episodes, all of which I finished in three evenings). I want to share with you exactly what my thoughts were about the plot, the characters, and how this story with so much potential will actually affect the way we advocate for mental health. Before we get into that though, I will give a brief summary of what the show is about just to give some context. Disclaimer: spoilers will occur, so if you haven’t watched it and are going to or you just really hate spoilers, then you may want to skip this post.13 Reasons Why started an important discussion about suicide awareness and we need to talk about it - A Daynna Life

13 Reasons Why

As stated above, 13 Reasons Why follows the story of a high school girl, Hannah, who committed suicide after experiencing a lot of hardship in the span of a short period of time. Before committing suicide, Hannah records 13 tapes, each with a reason as to why she decided to kill herself. Each tape is directed at a different person who hurt her in some way or another. She sets things up so that each person who is mentioned on one of the tapes has to listen to all 13 tapes, so everyone on the tapes knows what everyone else did to her.

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When Hannah’s best friend Clay receives the tapes, he’s extremely confused about why he’s on them. He was in love with Hannah and is still mourning her loss when he receives the tapes, therefore finding it incredibly difficult to listen to her reasons for killing herself.

Through hearing each of the tapes one by one, we learn that Hannah was a victim of bullying, was betrayed by her best friends, was called names, was raped, and was witness to horrible acts of violence, just to name a few. We learn that she didn’t feel worthy of Clay’s love because of all that she’s experienced, which is why Clay was included in the tapes.

As a new character is revealed on each of the tapes, we learn everyone’s back stories and all of the difficulties that they have faced. Each character has their own reasons for doing what they did and we gain a lot of back story about their mental health as well. There’s a common theme of facing hardship and struggling throughout the plot.

What I Liked About the Show

First off, I just want to say that I think it’s fantastic that there’s even a show surrounding the topic of suicide to begin with. Though it happens far too often, suicide isn’t an easy subject to talk about. This is exactly why we should be talking about it.

One of my favourite things about 13 Reasons Why is that it portrayed Hannah’s character in such a real way. Have you ever noticed that a large majority of people who commit suicide were seemingly happy people beforehand? That’s not to generalize, of course, but at least in my own experience in dealing with suicide it always seems to be those who seemingly have everything going for them. Hannah’s character is portrayed in a way that she has a social life, a caring family, a best friend who loves her, just to name a few things. She seems quite strong-willed throughout telling the stories and gets through a lot of crap before she hits her point of no return. She seems to genuinely care about the people in her life. It’s unfortunate, yet true, that some of the happiest looking people are the ones who are suffering the most.

On the same subject, I loved that they made an effort to portray those around Hannah having no idea what was going on. We can see from the outside that the signs were there, but for those around her they weren’t clear enough to be noticed if they weren’t looking for them. This is such a real struggle, because again, not all people who are depressed or suicidal appear that way. It’s important to know the signs and be able to recognize them when they come up in those who we care about in our own lives.

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A lot of people are also speculating about the scene where Hannah slits her wrists in the last episode. The majority of people seemingly feel that this was just for shock value and that it was unnecessary. While I do agree that the scene may be triggering for someone who is struggling with feelings of suicide, I actually think the message being portrayed there is incredibly important. Suicide is not glamorous. It is shocking and disturbing, and it’s incredibly difficult to talk about, let alone witness. But it’s a very real issue. We can’t just shut our eyes to it just because it’s upsetting. That’s exactly why we should be acknowledging it, gory details and all. Acknowledging suicide fully is the only way to understand it and therefore prevent it from happening to those we love.

What I Didn’t Like About the Show

While I did enjoy the show, I do have some issues with it. The main thing I want to talk about here is how Hannah’s suicide was portrayed as a revenge plot. The problem with this is that when someone commits suicide, they’re not around to see the aftermath. My concern with this part of the plot is that the finality of death wasn’t accurately portrayed, which may lead those suffering with suicidal thoughts to believe that death isn’t as final as it truly is.

I also feel that they could have gone further into depth about the supporting characters’ mental health situations. For instance, we know that Clay was once on medication and that his mother wants him to be on it again (which is a whole other issue that I’ll get into), but I feel like they could have gone into so much more detail with that. The same thing goes for when we find out about Justin’s abusive home life – why did they not dig deeper?

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Another issue I have with the show is the way that the adults (parents, counsellor, teachers, etc.) dealt with not only Hannah’s suicide, but the other kids’ compromised mental and emotional well-beings as well. The example stated above where Clay’s mom orders him his old prescription and tries to get him to take it again as if medication is a magic fix for sadness. Like, I’m sorry, but that’s just completely unrealistic. The other thing that bothered me in this sense was the scene with the counsellor talking to Hannah literally hours before she commits suicide. He not only seems to have no idea how to handle the situation, but he fails to recognize that this is a student in crisis and even goes as far as to victim blame her when she tells him that she was raped. These scenes are setting up false pretences about how mental illness should be dealt with.

How 13 Reasons Why will Affect Mental Health Advocacy

Like I said earlier, I think it’s fantastic to have a show that focuses in on mental illness (particularly depression and suicide as well as bullying). I think the intentions were all there and there are a lot of positives about the show. That being said, I think there was ample opportunity to take that even further and dive into the depths of mental illness without creating the false beliefs that I stated above. It would be interesting to see if they did a season two what criticism they would take into consideration and try to implement next.Free resource library - A Daynna Life

Thank you so much for reading this post! Have you watched 13 Reasons Why? If so, what were your thoughts? Do you agree with what I’ve said, or do you have different opinions? Let me know in the comments below! For further reading, you can check out my last post, Budgeting 101: How This Millennial Saves Thousands of Dollars Per Year, or check out another mental health related post, Drowning in the Stigma of Mental Illness

31 comments on “Suicide Awareness and Prevention: The Positive and Negative Impacts of “13 Reasons Why” on Mental Health Advocacy”

  1. I think mixed feelings are very important about a show like this because they do start a discussion.

    • There definitely seems to be mixed feelings about it. I myself have mixed feelings but I think overall it’s an important topic to shine light on and it’s gotten people talking, which for me is a positive! You should check it out when you get the chance. 🙂

  2. it was no surprise that this show was going to bring up pros and cons and I love reading what viewers have to say about it! my love for the concept starting at the book level, which if you enjoyed the show, I’d highly recommend reading. there’s a different voice to the book, and it doesn’t seem like it glamorizes suicide as much as the show does. love your insight here! x, nicole // http://www.nicoleeigh.com

  3. I haven’t watched 13 Reasons Why but I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the show. I noticed the series was sparking a lot of controversy but wasn’t sure why (other than that the main character committed suicide). I do think mental health can be difficult to discuss in television shows because it seems there will always be viewers who think you are being too real and too raw or viewers who think you aren’t being real and raw enough. Obviously I’ll need to watch the show if I want to form my own opinion BUT I think it is important to broach these topics in books/movies/tv!

    • Absolutely! I think everyone has their own thoughts on how mental health should be portrayed in the media, so when the topic comes up it seems to cause a lot of controversy (as we saw with 13 Reasons Why). Personally, I really loved the realness of some of it but also felt some of it was over-glamourized (that’s the media for you though, haha). Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  4. I haven’t seen the show yet but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and getting your take. Like you stated, it’s great that mental health and suicide topics are being brought up, but there’s a responsibility that they need to be brought up in the right way. Great read!

    • Absolutely! At least in a way that’s accurate to real life struggles. In some ways I thought the show did a great job on this, while in other ways I thought there was room for improvement. Overall, I was happy that they talked about it though! Thanks Amanda!

  5. What an interesting, thoughtful and well put together post! I really enjoyed reading it.
    I haven’t watched the show yet but really want to!
    xx, Theresa

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it! I actually really liked the show overall, and it’s sparked a lot of conversation so I definitely recommend checking it out!

  6. I haven’t seen 13 Reasons Why, yet. I want to watch it, and I’m sure I will at some point. But as a teacher to middle school students, I do worry about the show almost “glorifying” suicide in some ways. Hopefully it’s not that case, but I just worry about what impressionable kids might think when they watch it.

    xoxo, SS

    Southern And Style

    • I agree with you 110%! That’s actually my main concern with the show as well, as there definitely is an aspect of over-glamourizing to it. I think it’s important to remind kids of the permanence that suicide causes and help them understand that it’s not a glamorous thing. Thank you so much for your thoughts! xo

  7. Loved your review! While I didn’t watch the show, I did read the book a few years back and I really enjoyed it – mainly because, like you said, it’s a subject that needs to be talked about and it is important for it to be portrayed accurately.

  8. I love this post! I saw 13 Reasons Why and I also felt that the suicide was presented as a revenge plot. I do think that it created awareness, which led to conversations about metal health and bullying, so that’s a good think. I’m also curious to see if the concerns will be addressed in the second season.

    • For sure! It’s definitely a tricky subject to maneuver too, but I think the conversation that has arisen from it is amazing because it’s bringing so much attention to such a real struggle. Hopefully the executives for the show are listening to the feedback, both the positive and constructive criticism. Thanks girl!

  9. Love this! I appreciate that you actually spoke to the positive of the series! People have been so negative about it! I’m sorry, but people need to know that kids REALLY DO go through this. They are being raped, becoming addicts, suffering abuse, and much more right under our noses! While I don’t love the idea of it being some revenge-like plot… I’m so happy it brought light to a situation that is being swept under the rug daily!

    • Absolutely, it’s so true! Despite there being aspects of the show that were over-glamourized (and what isn’t in the media these days?), I think there were so many positives that came from it as well. How many people commit suicide who nobody even knew they were struggling? It happens way too often, and I think the show really shone some light on that. And look at how many people are talking about it, bringing so much more awareness! Thank you so much for your thoughts!

  10. This is a very great post and I loved the points you brought up!
    However, I don’t think they are necessarily saying that how the counselor handled it is “appropriate”. I think they were trying to shed light on the fact that the administrators we rely on for mental health help do not have the training required.

    • That’s such a great point, Sofieyah! And it’s so true, unfortunately high quality mental health care is in high demand but not easily accessible. And this does absolutely happen in real life. Thank you for sharing that!

  11. I totally agree with what you didn’t like about the show. I personally thought it also didn’t give a very realistic portrayal of how final suicide is. The entire show is basically wrapped around the idea of “I wonder what everyone would do if I died” and makes it a very dramatic, romanticized, and crazy story–which almost romanticizes suicide in a way. Not the best story line in my opinion!

    Great post! I loved reading this and you covered the issue very well!

    Xoxo
    Hanna
    Ashadeofchic.com

    • Absolutely true. That was the main thing that bothered me about the show as well. I think they could have done a much better job at portraying how suicide is a final thing, and even if you want to get revenge on those people you won’t be around to see their guilt after you’re gone. It’s a very fine line for sure, because although so many positives came out of the show (people are talking about suicide openly far more than before) I think the plot could have been handled more responsibly. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  12. I have not watched the series, but I have read the book. In my class, my students participate in a book club and a lot of the kids read it. It is not as graphic as the show, according to people I know. The book does not glorify suicide and it teaches more about the consequences of bullying and pressures of school life. It is unfortunate the show is so intense, which takes away from the book’s message. I think suicide should be an open conversation, which the book allows. But, the show makes people believe the book is one in the same. Thanks for speaking about this! xx

    • So true, Kait! I’m really interested to read the book now, as I’ve heard a lot of positive things about it! It sounds like there are a lot of important and good points that come up in it. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  13. Excellent article Daynna. Again you have brought the importance of mental health awareness to the forefront. I will be sure to watch this show and your observations will help me watch it from a different viewpoint

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