I Am a 24 Year Old, Non-Suicidal Adult, & 13 Reason's Why Infuriates Me.

Just a few notes before I begin this blog post. 
  • This post contains 13 Reason's Why spoilers, detailed descriptions of triggering scenes, and discussion of rape and suicide.
  •  I can't stand hearing "I've been triggered". I feel like it's a phrase we throw around when we are mildly uncomfortable, not understanding the magnitude of what it really means to be emotionally triggered. I have never used this word before, which means that I am able to accurately use the word without it being an "overdramatic reaction" 
  • I've always believed in the concept of literary license. We as writers have the power to use whatever style, dialect, and content we want in our work. If ignoring grammatical rules calls for better writing, we can do it. If we want to write about controversial issues, we can and we should. I believe the writers of the show, and the author of the novel, have the right to do whatever they want in regards to content. But, they also had an obligation to prepare younger audiences. 
  • I think it is important to note that I am 24 years old with a small background in Psychology, and a large background in teenage development. I have never self-harmed or planned to take my own life. I say this because it's imperative that you understand that this is from an adult perspective. 

I have had the intention of writing a response to 13 Reason's Why since it became a Netflix Series. My original plan was to write a comparison of the book and the movie, which morphed into a review strictly about the show, and finally into this - my own PSA urging, begging people to get smart about this grotesque phenomenon.

I want to state my biggest point upfront. If nothing else resonates with you, please remember to utilize your power of educating young minds and being an advocate for suicide prevention the beneficial way. 

Suicide prevention, rape culture, and mental health are all issues that need to be discussed in a positive, factual, and clear manner. I am happy that this show has started a conversation but I am terrified that the conversation is going in the wrong direction 

I had heard about 13 Reason's Why via social media.

I saw posts about the show portraying it as a brilliant show that teens could relate to, but, being the literary nerd I am, I decided to read the YA novel before watching the show.

I remember being excited about the book and finishing it in about 3 days because I wanted to start the series. I told Allison about the series and tried my best to avoid spoilers. 

But, I don't want to get ahead of myself. My experiece with the book was far from triggering, and I think that the book is harmless.

The book is a quick and easy read, and I truly enjoyed it. I think the author does a great job of informing it's reader's that we need to treat each other nicer and be aware that our actions can cause emotional harm to one another. A message that I truly believe the Netflix series wanted to get across - but failed wildly.

I'll go ahead and spoil the ending for you because you need to understand the major change that the producers made in the show - Hannah Baker kills herself by overdosing on pills - a much less graphic suicide than the show. 

If you're a self-proclaimed reader like myself, then you'll understand this. It's general knowledge that a show based off of a book is going to veer off of the original plotline. Pieces will be left out, characters won't look the way we think they should, and more often than not, our expectations won't be met. But before this show, I had never seen such a drastic book-to-show change.

This Netflix series adapted a loose version of the book's plot and put gory, graphic, harmful spins to provoke intense emotions, that I truly believe teenagers are not prepared for or are not capable of handling because biologically their brains are still developing.

Let's move onto the actual show.

I would say through the first...half of the show, I was very much "hooked".

Allie sat beside me, watching it for the first time as well. Within the first 3 episodes, Allie told me that she didn't like the show and that she felt it was showing a teenager girl manipulating her peers and portraying suicide as a revenge that was easy to obtain. Even with her revisions, she let me watch the show while wearing her "this is a bad idea" look on her face.

A look that I should have paid attention to.

I wasn't listening to her persistent "I don't think you should watch this" moments because to be honest, I had FOMO. I wanted to understand the references that people were spewing on each other's timeline's, and I was genuinely interested in how they would take a book that takes place within a 24 hour period and turn it into a 13-episode Netflix series.

Turn's out, you can't do that, so you just make it into a completely new story in hopes of "educating people".

Towards the end of the show, I started to get hesitant. I knew what was coming - spoilers and articles like these had done that for me - so I didn't feel that " I have to know what is happening next" vibe.

Before I continue I guess I should go ahead and tell you I was the Hannah Baker of my high school. People said what they wanted to me, made up rumors, whispered when I would walk by, and treated me like I was "pretty, but kind of slutty" based off their assumptions. I also had boys of all ages manipulate me, feel they had a right to touch me if they wanted, cat call me, and just generally be terrible. So, Hannah, I get it. I'm not mad at you.

I'm mad at the people who thought showing a graphic rape scene would "spark good conversation", or that watching a seventeen-year-old girl's wrists spill over with blood would help teenagers understand that suicide isn't an option.

Unfortunately, you, Executive Producer(s) did not do that, but you did just showed any otherwise ignorant teenage girl that if she feels wronged by her peers, she can just steal razor blades and slice open her veins, the right way, to get revenge.

"the right way": we get to watch a vertical cut on both wrists kill a teenage girl as she screams in pain and despair. We then get to watch her mother find her in an overflowing bathtub hours later. 

Now - I'm sure you've ready many an article about how showing a raw, real suicide can be harmful to people who suffer from depression, or who have attempted suicide before. But are you reading about what the show does to children? To people who have loved ones who have suffered from a botched suicide? To literally anyone else? Because this show exceeds the amount of emotional trauma that anyone who is struggling in any way should have to go through.

Let's unpack the psychological background of the brain. We understand death at an early age. A grandparent dies after being sick, or a loved one who is younger passes tragically. Both horrific things that a person has to deal with, but we understand that death is inevitable and real.

We can hear about a suicide - even a gruesome one - and understand it. It hurts, and we feel the pain of a death, but have you ever really tried to picture, to understand, what it looks like to die by bleeding out. If someone was in front of you, slicing open their wrists, you (assuming you aren't a psychopath) would immediately try to stop them. We aren't equipped to voluntarily watch a child take her life. It's not something that should be graphically spewed across television screens.

What we could do, instead, is describe the scene, like Clay did, not show a play by play, and unpack the reality that some children take their life this way, and we should be doing something to prevent it.

This show offers no advice on how to deal with mental health issues, bullying, or suicide.

It shows primarily negative accounts of how people treat each other, how people handle their own emotions, and the aftermath that is created post-suicide.

Why weren't the producers willing to include discussion on how to prevent this? The only "prevention" I see in this show is to treat others nicer. What about the fact that depression, anxiety, suicidality, etc are all mental illnesses and should be understood beyond what a 17-year-old girl believes?

I wholeheartedly believe that suicide and depression should be discussed freely and loudly, but I don't believe this show does that. I believe it portrays suicide as a vengeful act that will gain you "stardom" post-death, and that the graphic nature of the show harms those who experience similar events,

I'll end this with an account of my own experience post 13 Reason's Why; 
Because I knew that this show included sexual assault, I chose to watch it alone. I did not know how harshly it would effect me, so I decided to go at my own speed.

I'll be honest- the first rape scene was uncomfortable, but nothing I hadn't seen on television before. The latter, however, shook me to the core with it's realness. If there are any rape survivors reading this, the episodes bland trigger warning is not enough.

But even then, I was okay. I wasn't traumatized. I was handling it. 

And then, I got to watch Hannah Baker kill herself, blame everyone, and die in a bathtub filled with her own blood. I am 24 years old and have never seen a scene so horrifying.

I then got to watch Kate Walsh, one of my favorite actors, hold her dead child in, what I can only assume (since I have no children), is a state of primal motherly survival calmness that allows her to try and save her child without losing her fucking shit.

I literally had to turn away for most of those two scenes. I was sick to my stomach, sobbing, and utterly shocked that I had just witnessed a scene like this.

And it isn't because I feel sad for Hannah Baker.
I understand crying over a TV character - I do it almost every time Grey's Anatomy airs.

I was crying for all of the loved ones that I pictured in that bathtub. 
I was crying for the teenagers who would see this and believe "this is my only way out".
I was crying because this show had so much potential to shed some god damn light on issues that teenagers face in a way that would help them. 

After I was finished, I woke up Allison and went through a series of hyperventilating spells - not only did I want to throw up, but my wrists throbbed as the image replayed in my brain. I had absolutely no words for the experience I was having, and I had no control over my emotional reaction. My system was flooded.

For 24 hours after I finished the show, I had flashbacks of what I watched, and the emotional response started all over again.

I tell you this because I consider myself healthy and stable. I've got my shit together as best I can, and I still had a horrific response to this show. 

Now let's imagine how anyone who is truly hurting, suffering from mental health issues, or survived a traumatic event that still effects them, is going to respond.

Think about how your students, children, brothers, sisters, and loved ones will respond.

Here is the reality: This show is popular, and there will probably be a season 2. We can't expect every teenager to watch this with their parents or a support system, and there's no way we will see it leave Netflix, but here are a few things you can do to make a tiny difference when it comes to suicide, rape, and bullying:

If you are a teacher: Be aware of how students are acting towards one another, and what topics of conversations have been popping up since the show aired. Pay attention to the students who are secluded, and drawn away. Educate the young minds in your classroom about the reality of depression and suicide. Talk. Make students listen. Make your conversations sincere. Give students resources. Talk about the show in a way that helps children understand the misinterpretation it created of suicide and the things that are happening in almost every school.

If you are a teenager: Do not watch this show alone. If you are one of my former students, or a young reader, please take this advice to heart. Find a support system, and understand that another teenage friend isn't the correct support system to have for this. Find an adult that you trust and be open to discussing the show with them. Understand that this show can be dangerous and that even though you believe you know everything ("oh I'll totally be fine! This show is like...so good"), you don't.

If you are a parent: Consider watching the show before your child, and determine if it is something you want them watching. The show is rated Mature, so it is not recommended to people under 18. If your child has already watched it, talk to them about it. If your child hasn't watched the show, encourage them to watch it with you or some other adult. Be aware of what's going on in their lives as much you can. Be an ally for them, and do not ignore or invalidate anything they say in regards to hurting themselves, hurting others, bullying, rape, or mental health.

If you are an adult: It doesn't matter if you don't have children. Do you have a younger sibling? a younger cousin? a friend who struggles? Use your voice to educate people about how to handle suicide and depression, and encourage people to be smart when it comes to such an intense, influential show.

Here are some resources: 

If you are struggling with suicide, depression, self harm, or any mental health issues, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Details are here: http://www.crisistextline.org/textline/?gclid=CNyz_N_J2dMCFZG3wAodo5sBXg