Recently, Netflix produced and aired an original series called “13 Reasons Why” based on a novel “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. The book and show both focus around a high school student named Hannah Baker, a suicidal teenager in high school who experienced immense bullying and torment while trying to live in a society that perpetuates such acts. The show revolves around Hannah’s decision to end her life and a boy she liked, Clay, and their dual narratives on her life and the life that continued after her death.
While the show had a dark, haunting message and plot-line, when Netflix debuted the series, it had a much larger and rapid “cult-like” following than that of the novel. The novel was one I had read in my youth, but one that most teens had strayed away from due to its dark message. Much like “Go Ask Alice,” and books of that nature, many students in my classes strayed away from dark novels and decided to read something more “light-hearted.”
Now that there is a TV series putting the novel’s narrative in the real, 3D world – it has taken off in ways the book never could. And, although Netflix is monetizing on the series immensely, it is one that I refuse to watch nor promote, although I was a fan of the novel it is based on.
Many people who watch the series are that of Hannah Baker – young, Millennials that may have struggled in ways Hannah has struggled herself. The intended audience for the show in the series’ promotion were those who could relate to Hannah Baker, who had felt the same torment and pain she had felt in the show.
While many shows that target youth and discuss suicide and mental health awareness can be dark and dangerous to produce, it so happens that the majority of them attempt to give a message of optimism and hope – or, try to give a story line of help. 13 Reasons Why, in my eyes, fails to do so.
From studies by lead adolescent psychologists I have read over the last several weeks, after the series took off, calls into suicide hotlines had increased by a large percent. As well, teenagers who had experienced bullying and other tormenting behaviors from peers were now writing on blogs and chat lines on the Internet about “following in the steps of Hannah Baker,” and “leaving letters behind to those who had wronged them.”
According to U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third highest cause of death for those aged 15-24. Lead adolescent psychologists have authored dozens of studies on the effects of media on teenagers and have discovered that teenage suicide is contagious. According to Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz:
“Teenage suicide is contagious. We know for over three decades that when kids watch television where they depict a suicide, they’re more likely to attempt and they’re more likely to actually (kill themselves).”
While Netflix argues that the show “opens the dialogue on suicide and depression amongst youth,” and can “push people to be kind and show empathy and support,” several scenes within the show, according to researchers, promote the opposite. Instead, the show promotes the idea that Hannah’s peers looked at her suicide as a cry for attention rather than an illness and alarming call for help. In turn, her suicide in the show is painted as a way to “get revenge” on those who have wronged her and for them to realize they had been cruel by her tragic death.
The show, in the end, glamorizes suicide in a way that is a huge trigger towards youth who are depressed and suicidal. Many teens who experience these mental health issues feel alone and discouraged – needing support and help. What they received from this show was a huge push to do the wrong thing.
The reason I can’t come to support this show isn’t just because of the glorification of suicide, but a bigger issue amongst society as a whole. With the Internet and media becoming so invasive into people’s lives, we’ve become desensitized to important and major issues amongst individuals.
Suicide, which is something that should never be made into a joke, has become something that people laugh about – for example, when Aaron Hernandez recently committed suicide in prison, it was only hours before I saw memes appear on the Internet about dropping him in fantasy football drafts.
The more often these kinds of TV shows, series and content appear within society, the further we become desensitized towards human beings.