The REAL Thirteen Reasons Why

June 1, 2017

13+RW+graphic+by+Aris+Sanders

13 RW graphic by Aris Sanders

My Response to 13 Reasons Why

What could be more relevant to today’s teen community than a show about a depressed teenage girl who takes her life? Sadly, not much.

Whether you’ve watched it or not, everyone has heard of the new Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why. The new show, based on the novel by Jay Asher, is about a young teenage girl, Hannah, who takes her life, leaving behind a box of tapes that explains the reasons why she killed herself, and what classmates she holds ‘responsible’.

I started 13 Reasons Why thinking, Great. Another sob story where I’ll cry every five minutes and have to turn away. I was wrong. The show is definitely sad, but only the last episode made me cry. Instead, I felt angry, frustrated, and disgusted that Hannah was treated the way she was. So many people heard and saw the things people did to her, yet did nothing until it was too late. 13 Reasons Why really makes you think.

You stop and process what you see every day in the hallway, what you hear on the bus, and what you say about people when they’re not in the room. You start to think about your school, what happens there, and how people are treated.

“My school is bully free…Right?”

“I am so glad this doesn’t happen at my school.”

“How can they just watch! Why aren’t they helping?”

Thoughts like this and more are what run through my head while I’m watching 13 Reasons Why. And some of them do make sense; why don’t Hannah’s classmates do anything until it’s too late? Why do so many people seem intent on hurting her? However, I think I’m also trying to reassure myself. I want to believe that I would be better, that I would stand up for someone in Hannah’s situation, that I would never say anything bad about someone, but in reality, we don’t know what we’ll do until the situation comes up. And, deep down, I think that a lot of people would turn their heads. They would say things like “I am so sorry for you” and “Feel better” and “Don’t let them get you down”, but they wouldn’t actually do anything. Their words would be empty.

And yes, while 13 Reasons Why does make me upset and angry, I appreciate the fact that the show brings attention to important global issues: depression, suicide, and sexual assault.

 

What do Teens Think About 13 Reasons Why?

13 Reasons Why has established itself as a popular show among teenagers. Many have binge watched it right away, finishing the first season days after it was available. Along with it’s high viewer count, the show has incited strong opinions among its audience.

“I believe it has a great message. People don’t want to talk about suicide and rape, but we need to start being more open about the two subjects. We also need to think about everything we’re doing and how it affects others, no matter if you know, think you know, or don’t know what that person is going through,” said Madison Lefever, a sophomore at PHS.

Lefever watched the show and absolutely loved it. She shared that, yes, it was a graphic show and could sometimes be hard to watch, but “that was the point”. This is how real life is, and she believes that the more people talk about emotional and uncomfortable topics like the ones discussed in 13 Reasons Why, the more people will understand how their words and actions truly affect others.

“The things you tend to feel only when seeing it on a screen is nothing compared to the pain a victim of rape is feeling, same for suicide,” said Lefever.

However, not everyone shares this opinion. While some people think that 13 Reasons Why is an eye-opening story that helps shine a light on suicide and depression, others think it doesn’t accurately depict these topics.

“I don’t really think that 13 Reasons Why showed the truth behind suicide and depression. It really does affect most people and the people who are depressed or cut don’t do it for attention, and it makes them feel worse when people say that,” said sophomore Aurora Ilacqua.

Along with this, Ilacqua strongly believes that the show is inaccurate and doesn’t make people who are depressed feel better about themselves.

“You can’t romanticize depression and suicide because that won’t make it better. And it’s not a good thing to romanticize about either. Overall, people who are in the same spot as Hannah do not want the attention of being on the spotlight, and they don’t want it romanticized either,” Ilacqua said.

 

Rates of Depression and Suicide in Teens

It’s a known fact that suicide rates have spiked in recent years, although the causes aren’t clear and concrete. Through this new Netflix phenomenon, teens are watching a girl being bullied, harassed, and attacked violently, and then they see her slit her wrists.

According to the 2016 Washington Healthy Youth Survey, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Washington teens 15 to 19 years old. In recent years, while more teens may seek help if depressed, the number of teens who have depressive feelings and have considered suicide have gone up in the past decade. In 2006, 15% of sophomores considered attempting suicide – by 2016, that number was up to 21%. The number of seniors who were thinking about taking their life leapt from 12% to 20%. In 2016, 13% of 8th graders, 17% of 10th graders, and 16% of 12th graders made a suicide plan. More than half of them went through and made an attempt on their life. And those numbers are only from Washington, suicide is a global problem.

The numbers are showing that suicide is a growing phenomenon. What isn’t yet known is if 13 Reasons Why will have any lasting impacts on teenagers and young adults.

 

Jokes in the Teen Community

Suicide is a common thing to joke about, and since 13 Reasons Why was turned into a show, the jokes have only gotten worse. It’s not uncommon to hear people say things like, “If we run today, I will literally kill myself” or “Please kill me now” at times when they’re annoyed or upset For example, people will use the serious topic of suicide to joke about taking a test or anything else not considered fun. In this way suicide is exploited as an offhand comment, it’s trivialized.

Since 13 Reasons Why came out, phrases like “Welcome to your tape” or “You’re on my list” have been heard as a response to when others upset them. In the show, each of the tapes Hannah Baker leaves behind explains a reason why she killed herself, and all of the reasons are people who betrayed her trust in some way. When someone says “Welcome to your tape” or “You’re on my list”, they blame others for their “depression” and belittle suicide. Since 13 Reasons Why, comments like this have only increased, downplaying a solemn and unhumorous topic.

“I hate it when people make jokes about suicide, because people are actually suffering from that. And I think that a few more jokes were added because of 13 Reasons Why. It really pisses me off, because there are people who are considering suicide, and the jokes don’t make them feel better,” said Ilacqua.

 

Inaccuracies and Implications of 13 Reasons Why

In the Tacoma News Tribune, an article was recently published linking the increasing number of teens seeking help to watching 13 Reasons Why. One of their sources, Molly Adrian, a psychologist at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, said that the show has unrealistic portrayals.

“The school counselor doesn’t help Hannah and the other adults in her life are portrayed as ineffectual. This might create the notion that adults won’t understand or are unable to help a teen in crisis,” Adrian said.

The show has become such a big deal that the Peninsula School District even sent out a letter to families talking about the show and how to tell if your child or any of their peers are depressed.

“We are concerned  about the popularity of this show and its potential effects on youth for several reasons. The way suicide is presented in the series goes against all established media guidelines meant to decrease the likelihood of copycat cases. The suicide is presented as a quasi-rational response to the behavior of others, even glorified and romanticized with memorials and melodramatic responses,” read the letter sent out by Peninsula School District in response to the show’s reputation.

To add on to what Adrian said, the letter told parents that talking to their children about suicide will not plant the seed. In fact, it lets them know that you are there for them, that you’ll help them through whatever it is they need help with. A large portion of teenagers who are feeling suicidal feel like they have nobody to turn to, no one to talk to. If they had someone to turn to, so many more of them wouldn’t go through with their plans.

 

Fighting Against Suicide

In 13 Reasons Why, no one notices how Hannah is feeling. Everyone seems to assume that everything is fine, that she’s fine. None of the students at Hannah’s school help her, and the adults in her life appear oblivious to her problems. They don’t notice the pain she’s in. Her parents, the school counselor, none of them pick up on how Hannah is feeling. But even though the show portrays an apathetic community, the world is full of people who care.

Perhaps some people are just gifted at hiding their feelings, but counselors are trained for this. That doesn’t mean they’ll pick up on every little thing, but surely Hannah’s counselor would’ve gotten the hint that she was depressed. Just because someone says they’re fine doesn’t mean it’s true.

Watch for warning signs. There are common actions and phrases that can alert you to someone you know or love who’s thinking about killing themselves. If they start giving things away, saying that they aren’t needed or that nothing matters anymore, don’t take it lightly. Not always, but often, they’re considering suicide as a way out. They’re calling for help and hoping that someone hears them. It’s our job to hear their message and help.

 

Overall Message

13 Reasons Why definitely has good and bad qualities. Yes, I think I was a little dramatic and perhaps not fully accurate, but it’s a television show. At the same time, it spreads the message of suicide and how it hurts so many people besides the victim. Family, friends, the community, everyone is affected, whether you knew or liked the person or not. You can’t experience something like this without being touched in some way.

Maybe it’s because I know people who hurt themselves, who want to or have thought about or have tried to take their life. Everyone has met someone who’s lived through, or is living through, depression. It’s something that affects everybody.

Hopefully, despite the drama, adults and teens alike will start thinking about what they say and do to people. Words matter, actions matter. Even the tiniest thing can brighten someone’s day; smiling, complimenting them, helping them pick something up. It can also ruin their day. People are greatly affected by words. The smallest comment can make them feel hated and useless, or it can make them feel loved and wanted. People who are feeling down think that no one is there and that no one cares about them. So proving them wrong, showing them that someone does care…It can change a lot.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “The REAL Thirteen Reasons Why”

  1. Ted Olinger on June 2nd, 2017 10:37 am

    Great job Lilli. Please keep the KP News in mind to also publish what you write when you’re back at it next year. (Unless you’ve got something else planned before June 15?). Have a great summer, Ted

  2. Lilli Roberts on June 5th, 2017 12:24 pm

    Thank you so much! I don’t have anything planned, but that might change, I’m not sure yet. I will definitely keep the KP News in mind! 🙂

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