Thursday, April 20, 2017

"13 Reasons Why" Made Me Uncomfortable



Warning: This blog  contains spoilers about the show 13 Reasons Why.

By now, you've probably heard about the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based off a novel, which tells the story behind why Hannah Baker, from a white picket fence town with an almost perfect family, committed suicide. From being raped by a popular boy, to witnessing her friend's sexual assault, to her best friends turning their backs on her. Hannah endured countless acts of bullying, which she relives on 13 audio tapes that are passed around to her ‘friends’ after her death as they are one of the 13 reasons why she took her own life. On the show, we follow the main character, Clay Jensen, helplessly wish he had known what she was facing, so he could have been there for her. We also watch as her peers sit on the sidelines and watch her demise.
I am sure I am not the only one whose guilty of binge watching a television series on Netflix, I like to think of them as really LONG movies. The morning Netflix released 13 Reasons Why several close friends and I watched every episode that day. I knew I wanted to share my opinions on this particular television series because I knew it would be a hit. Little did I know the impact it would make on my generation. 13 Reasons Why has pros and cons but has been a powerful tool for spreading teen suicide awareness.
While watching 13 Reasons Why, I became uncomfortable, for several reasons. My heart began to ache for Hannah’s loved ones. I knew their pain of losing someone who didn’t know their own worth to suicide. The moment when Mrs.Baker finds Hannah in the bathtub my heart physically hurt. I could never, nor would I want to, imagine finding my dear daughter, or loved one, covered in her own blood after self inflicted wounds. Another reason why this series made me uncomfortable was how brutally honest it was. 13 Reasons Why addresses topics that typically are glossed over in the media including rape, bullying, suicide, and victim blaming. There are scenes of sexual assaults happening and we watch as all hope has left through these young women. Although these topics make one so uncomfortable they need to be addressed and talked about. This series was a good step to starting conversations to the rid the stigma surrounding suicide.
Suicide is often no one's fault, and to blame suicide on any one person, or 13 people, would completely ignore the fact that the person who chose to hurt themselves made that decision for themselves. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes suicide as a decision that's made as the result of a battle with depression, another mental illness, or a severe traumatic event. Hannah shows warning signs of suicide throughout the series but Hannah isn’t depicted to have a mental illness. Although, most suicides are always a ‘shock’ or ‘unexpected’ according to Child Trends, teens are much more likely to consider suicide if they face a traumatic life event or are suffering from severe depression. Four out of five teens that have attempted suicide have given clear warning signs.
My first thoughts were, “how could someone handle being blamed for someones death,” “why would Hannah want these 13 people to suffer, is she looking for revenge?” whether or not she was looking for revenge. We watch everyone in Hannah’s life suffer. One her reasons, Alex Standall, attempts suicide in the end of the series and is left in critical condition. There are elements of Alex's character throughout the series that demonstrate why he'd be a suicide risk — a restrictive home life, a tendency toward anger and violence, a lack of impulse control. I noticed warning signs of suicide in Alex around episode five, and grew curious of the foreshadowing. I hope that season two addresses copycat suicides or suicide clusters. Copycat suicides or clusters are a chain of completed suicides, usually among teens, in a discrete period of time and area, which have a ‘contagious’ element. A risk factor or warning sign of suicide is being exposed to another suicide of someone close.
            I have often heard conversations of others talking about suicide as a selfish act. I can see where one could argue it. Someone who has suicidal thoughts may think the world would be a better place without them and fail to think about their loved ones that it would impact. 13 Reasons Why does a great job of showing the impact Hannah’s suicide made on her entire community. We watch as Clay, Hannah’s parents, and the 13 ‘reasons’ physically and mentally become worn down. They process the grief in acts of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. Mrs. and Mr. Baker are so angered with entire situation they start a law suit with the school. The character I saw the most physical change was with Clay.
            Clay started this ’journey’ not really sure how to accept Hannah’s death. In the beginning, he seems like anyone else would take the news that a fellow classmate took their life. But once Clay receives these tapes, and as the series progresses we see this stress or heavy burden just weigh down on him. He stops communicating with his parents, showering, sleeping, and overall just taking care of himself.  
            I could sit here and type all day about the pros and cons of this series, and maybe I will address more in some upcoming blogs. But here are my overall lessons learned from 13 Reasons Why.
1. Social media has a real impact.
2. You never know what someone is going through.
3. What you say or do really does matter.
4. The small things are important.
5. Listen.
6. Everyone truly has their own story.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (Available 24 Hours every day)
1-800-273-8255

Forever and Always,

Siam Simpfenderfer
Miss North Dakota International 2017