“13 Reasons Why” Hurts Vulnerable Teens

By Laura Greenstein | May. 05, 2017

 

Most likely by now you’ve heard about the controversial Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” The show is about Hannah Baker, a high school student who takes her own life and then explains what she sees as the 13 “reasons” that led to her decision. Her reasons are described in a box of cassette tapes she leaves behind for the people she says contributed to her death. In these tapes, she explains her perception of how these individuals wronged her and instructs them to pass the tapes on to the next person.  

The show’s premise alone stirs up a lot of concern for people in the mental health community because this show is a suicide revenge fantasy. Through these tapes, Hannah receives all the support and love she needed in life after her death. It is a dangerous perspective for everyone, but especially young adults—the series’ target audience—most of whom don’t realize the finality of death. They may not understand that Hannah is not actually receiving this support, it just seems that way—through the magic of television. But for Hannah, it is too late.

Television’s power shouldn’t be underestimated, especially as it pertains to suicide. This is not to say that the topic of suicide should be avoided, but it must be handled carefully. Research has extensively shown that the way media covers suicide can lead to greater suicide risk. That’s why ReportingOnSuicide.org provides a specific set of guidelines to avoid media-prompted suicides from happening. 13 Reasons Why violated these guidelines by graphically depicting Hannah taking her life.

Additionally, as we learn the backstory of why this young adult ended her life, mental health and mental illness aren’t discussed at all. This is major failure of the show as 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness and suicide is very often preventable if a person receives the appropriate care. But mental health resources are mentioned only in passing after Hannah’s death. There is not a dedicated scene about finding or providing resources for struggling teenagers. The guidance counselor Hannah reaches out to for help fails to introduce her to any mental health resources or even contact her parents.

The creators of this show stand firm that they were attempting to start the conversation on the important topics of bullying, sexual assault and suicide. In fact, Selena Gomez (executive producer of 13 Reasons Why) recently commented that backlash was “going to come no matter what” because suicide is not “an easy subject to talk about,” but overall, she feels “very proud” of the show.

While the show has started many conversations about suicide, whether those conversations are harmful or helpful is debatable. What is helpful, however, are all the resources that have become more visible in response to the show—that is perhaps the series' only true benefit. NAMI encourages anyone who may be struggling after watching to seek help. Here are a few resources to consider:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALKprovides 24/7 support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources.
  • The Crisis Text Line — Text “NAMI” to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Ok2Talk — This is NAMI’s safe community for teens and young adults struggling with mental health problems. Anyone may share a personal story of recovery, tragedy, struggle or hope.
  • Starting the Conversation: College and Your Mental Health — A guide for both parents and young adults to start important conversations about mental health before the college years.
  • NAMI Ending the Silence — An in-classroom presentation that helps middle and high schoolers understand mental illness. During the 50-minute presentation, a young adult living with mental illness and their family member tell their stories about mental health challenges.
  • Say it Out Loud — This toolkit will help adults talk to teens about mental health. The toolkit includes a film, discussion guide, presentation and fact sheets to help start the conversation.
  • The NAMI HelpLine — 800-950-6264 or info@nami.org can offer you empathy and support and provide you information about resources in your community.

If you’re wondering why so many organizations and individuals felt the need to address the issues presented in 13 Reasons Why, it’s because suicide is the second leading cause of death for the primary demographic watching the show—people between the ages of 15 and 24. And females aged 10-14 (likely the age of Hannah Baker) actually had a tripling of their suicide rate from 1999 to 2014.

This topic should not be taken lightly or exploited for entertainment purposes. We all need to be aware of how suicide can and should be talked about in a way that doesn’t raise anyone’s risk for increasing that already too-high statistic.

 

NAMI recommends caution in deciding whether to watch the show. It has the equivalent of an R-rating. It is best watched with other family members or friends. We recommend talking points developed by the Jed Foundation for use in making the decision and focusing conversations.

If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Laura Greenstein is communications coordinator at NAMI.

Comments
Elisa Jungbauer
I would like to share this on facebook but there is a error message when I do.
6/22/2017 12:14:17 PM

Pat DeVries
I feel that most of you who are leaving the positive comments about the show do not have a child with mental illness who has tried to commit suicide in the past. My 16 year old only watched 1 episode of this, wrote 4 messages on her phone to kids who she felt had wronged her in some way and then again went down that suicide trail. She ended up hospitalized for a week and there were 4 other girls in there at that time because of the show as well. Children who have bipolar/ borderline personality disorder cannot and do not differentiate between real life and TV made up scenarios. everything is real to them. Shows like this only feed into their illness.
6/1/2017 12:59:16 PM

Vilomah
Suicide is a complex issue. For those whove made an attempt or succeed, it's an immediate solution to the insurmountable emotional pain and psychological suffering. For surviving family members of death by suicide, it's a transfer of their inner torment and making sense of the tragic loss is a living nightmare.

I lost a child to suicide 7 months ago and 13 Reasons Why helped me understand that my son's choice was a result of a series of events out of his control and the incremental decisions he made in response. Just as Hannah did in 13 reasons why.

However, I'm speaking from experience and am most likely the exception to the rule. I came to terms that my son's coping skills were weak before he joined the military. He experienced trauma growing up with his father and abusive step-mother, that he managed but went untreated. His events happened over a life time and PTSD exasperated after serving in Iraq. Hannah's unfortunate events happened in a short period of time. No history of depression or childhood adverse experiences were mentioned. The show not only excludes messages of hope, it portrays suicide unrealistically. Suicide doesn't just happen.

Our children's mental health, coping skills and hope is our responsibility. Statstics suggest risks of suicide drastically increase for surviving family members and I've learned in retrospect that, asking probing questions about suicide does not "plant seeds" nor cause suicidal behaviors.

The problem I see with "13 Reasons Why" glamorizing death by suicide is that it fails to show healing begins with hope.
5/31/2017 6:17:10 PM

BellaBunnell
If you think this is a suicide revenge story, you've missed the point. The show has had warnings from the beginning but it and the book have helped so many. Take some responsibility as parents and monitor their viewing. Ya'll realize this is fiction...
5/31/2017 5:26:02 PM

A. Di Santo
While I see the points on both sides, I feel that this show is eye opening and is allowing us to examine this difficult subject more closely. These things are happening in schools all over the country. While many cases do not result in suicide, many tragically do. High school kids are afraid and ashamed to speak up to adults and if they do, in several cases, little to nothing is done about it. This is even demonstrated in the show when Hannah goes to speak to her counselor the day of her death. Schools need to take a proactive approach to help struggling students through these things. Something tragic shouldn't have to happen before serious action is taken to prevent teen suicide. People need to look at this show as a way to identify signs of someone struggling. Parents and educators should watch this series. If teens are watching, there should be open communication regarding their thoughts and feelings about it. This is a topic that is very uncomfortable to discuss and I think it is great that this show is opening the communication about it.
5/16/2017 3:50:30 PM

Shellee serna
A coworker of mine is the one who told me about this movie. She told me to be sure our 18 year old daughter didn't watch it. She felt that with her history of depression and social anxiety it wouldn't be good for her. Well our daughter had already been watching it and was almost done. She told me that every parent that had kids in high school should watch it because that is how it is. I watch it. All 13 episodes in 3 days. I had mixed emotions on how I felt about it. Now I believe it is not something that young adults should watch, especially if they struggle with any type of emotional issues at all. I don't know if it was just a coincidence but our daughter who had been doing so good, attempted to end her life a couple weeks later. What made me think of the movie at this time was the cut on her wrist in the opposite direction of all her other marks from cutting. I'm not saying it was the movies fault but parents need to be careful if there kids are watching it.
5/16/2017 9:51:11 AM

Jen
My daughter attempted suicide last week. She shared that she had binge-watched 13 Reasons Why.

I'm not suggesting that the series was the reason for her attempt but it certainly played a part in her decision.

I'm too numb to give this proper thought however I felt the need to mention it.
5/14/2017 12:39:43 AM

natasha cornu-jbanez
Although I do see your points I would have to respectfully disagree. 13 Reasons Why is one of the reasons why I decided to get up and start acting in this community. In my point of view I believe the show depicts a young woman going through high school and all of it's trails and tribulations (a lot of the things it's viewers can or could have related to at some point). To me it shows exactly how detrimental how words and actions can impact someone's life and how we all need to be more careful and more AWARE of people who may need help. Like most people with mental illnesses,
Hannah was low key reaching out for help to her peers yet also reluctant and embarrassed to admit that she was alone and hurt- I feel like the show closes in on this very well. There are also many instances in the show were some of her aggressors were aware of the pain they caused her and deeply regretted it. I think it was good because for the viewers that get attacked as Hannah did- they could possibly see that people do care and do feel bad for their actions even if they don't show it. Hannah's suicide wasn't vengeful- her tapes were not vengeful. It was the way she was able to express herself and a final goodbye. Unfortunately Hannah reached out to at least two more people the day of her suicide and nobody reached back. If it was vengeful she would have just done it without remorse. I believe the show is to make us aware of many different social issues we have and I also believe the show clearly showed us that Hannah had another way out. Hopefully some viewers can see that and reach out for a course of action.
However it would have helped people that deal with mental illness if the show did mention clinical depression and things of that nature. 13 Reasons shows the reality of many people that had killed themselves- I hope it opens the eyes of many others as it did to me.
5/9/2017 12:58:28 PM

Lizanne Corbit
The fact that the show is a clear example of suicide revenge fantasy, is upsetting because to some degree it romanticizes a concept that is already so hard for young adults to fully grasp. The finality and true gravity of suicide can be hard to truly understand. That being said, as this article highlights the incredible out pouring of information and resources as a result of this show is a beautiful silver lining. Television, especially with young adults, is incredibly powerful. Perhaps speaking to them in one of their most beloved/consumed mediums is actually the best way to spread real awareness... Curious to see if we begin seeing more media examples like this.
5/8/2017 10:03:47 PM

Susan Jameson
If not for my believe of the lord god . my faith I would have a different a opinion. Of death
5/7/2017 2:41:33 AM

Jonathan
Hannah Baker was at least 16, as indicated by a scene where she was driving a car in the state of California.

Part of an adult's responsibility in understanding and responding to mental illness is cultivating awareness of the underlying situations that lead to mental illness.

In Hannah Baker's case, there were many adults who, while genuinely good and caring people, failed to understand the cause of her death.

One reason is the lack of attention. The adults in this show, like this blog, fail to pay attention to the subtle details leading to a depressive state before reacting.

If you can't even get the age of Hannah Baker right, how can you begin to relate to the complexities of her high school​ life?
5/6/2017 7:57:38 PM

Julie Overstreet
Hi I'm with NAMI Braos Valley in Texas. May I have your permission to share this as a press release? Thank you!
5/6/2017 11:35:40 AM

Suzanne
Laura - I would love to hear your take on tbe series after you have watched each and every episode. And no, you haven't watched it. If you had, you would know Hannah Baker was outside the 10-14 age group you assumed. The show very accurately portrayed a life ended too soon and the lack of mental health resources accessible to a young adult. Anyrhing other would have been fantasy. Should Hannah's mother have taken her for counseling after she was raped? Absolutely. Was she aware? No. Not one thing that occurred would have caused a suicide, most likely not even 5 or 6 or 7. The point at the end was, we all let people down sometime, try to be the one that's there when it matters. Hannah needed to feel like she mattered and tbe day of her death she didn't. Again, watch the series, each episode, includig Beyond the Reasons, only then should you publish an opinion. Suicide, especially teen suicide, it too tragic.
5/6/2017 11:06:46 AM

D. Swieringa
Was shocked by the last 3 "tapes" which I watched after finding out several 6th graders were watching this on their phones. I immediately notified the principal who just stated, "Thanks for the heads up. A very disturbing film, and should have been stopped by someone with half a brain! I mentioned it to my psychologist, and he wasn't even familiar with it. This is something that should have been banished as killing!
5/5/2017 8:43:07 PM

Veronica B Vale
An original idea that is working: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/general-news/20170504/oxford-high-school-students-begin-project-called-13-reasons-why-not
5/5/2017 4:49:41 PM

Kent Manno
Excellent article....!
5/5/2017 1:13:00 PM

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