In the days following the release of “13 Reasons Why,” my social media channels were inundated with opinions, reactions and memes related to the show. The 2007 novel turned Netflix original series quickly became Netflix’s most tweeted about show ever. However, the discussions surrounding the show were not all positive, and the debates that followed about the difficult topics were divisive.
While some people argued that the show taught them to ask for help when they need it and be kind to others, others said that the show stumbled with many flaws that prevented it from achieving the success it could have.
One definite result of the show is an increase of public awareness about suicide. Selena Gomez, an executive producer on the show and owner of the most followed account on Instagram, has used her platforms to speak out about her own mental health struggles in the past. After the show debuted, Gomez and two other cast members even got semicolon tattoos, a symbol used by Project Semicolon as part of their anti-suicide campaign.
However, the awareness is remarkably ineffective if it is not paired with equally important messages on the alternatives to suicide. The show never mentions the idea of mental health and depression, which consequently excludes mentions of the possibility of recovery. Even though depression and other mental health struggles manifest differently for every person, it would have been worth mentioning that suicide is often complicated and often involves multiple factors.
The show instead relies on an accompaniment released by Netflix called “Beyond the Reasons” and a partner website to provide resources rather than demonstrating them in action throughout the episodes. I think a direct listing of resources at the end of each episode instead with numbers for mental health hotlines and other web-based resources would have been more effective.
An additional problem I saw in the show is that the adults like the school counselors and parents come across as out of touch and uninvolved. While this may have been intentional to force the audience to build a connection with the teen characters, some are concerned that it may have been too effective.
Dan Reidenberg, the executive director for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, told ABC News that they are worried about an increase in suicides if students over-identify with Hannah.
Many who may over-identify with Hannah could be more vulnerable to the negative ideas within the show.
For this reason, I applaud Netflix for the trigger warnings that they put at the beginning of the more graphic final episodes. However, I never saw them when I watched the show.
Frustrated with the internet speeds of my apartment, I clicked to a different tab while the next episodes buffered and missed the warnings entirely as a result by clicking back to the tab only when I heard the show play again.
One simple change that I would have liked to see from the creators would be a narration of the warning while it is shown on screen. While the trigger warnings may not have caused me to stop watching the show, but the additional moment of pause that a trigger warning demands is worth the extra effort.
While the producers said in “Beyond the Reasons” that they were intentional about making the show painful to watch, the depth of pain created in the scenes that depict rape, suicide and other damaging events is not matched by resources to combat the problem.
Discussing the issues that are at the core of the show without adding to the stigma that already exists is difficult. Even more care must be taken when depicting actual methods of suicide. Although this show has made an impact for many since it was released, this larger problem requires more engagement than binge-watching and tweets, and there are resources available to aid in this task.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours every day at 1-800-273-8255.