13 Reasons Why

Apr 28, 2017 | Mind, Psychology

I binge-watched Netflix’s new series 13 Reasons Why in less than 24 hours this week. It left me feeling a lot of mixed emotions for a lot of different reasons, a big one of which being that I related so much with the high school experience of Hannah Baker.

I’ve written at length about the kind of sexual assault and sexual harassment that I and other girls experienced in high school and college. In some ways, I almost feel like the show didn’t do it justice because until the very end, it made it appear as though it was isolated and targeted at only a few people. It’s not. It’s ALL OF US. And the effects are real.

I loved the way that 13 Reasons Why attempted to show the duality of these kinds of situations, that nothing is black and white, and that there are many sides to every story – each with it’s own reasons and motivations. That was real, and it was honest.

I loved the way that it begged the question, “Did you do enough to help this person?” That’s something that all of us who’ve been touched by suicide have asked ourselves at one point or another. I remember feeling that guilt and asking myself the same question after I found out that a guy I had dated briefly in college – Sean – chose to end his life a few years later.

I was asking myself that question even though we hadn’t really kept in touch and had only spoken once or twice in the previous three years, even though we weren’t even that close – even though I knew those things, I still found myself combing over our last conversation in my mind wondering if I’d missed a sign that something was wrong.

There’s another emotion that occurs after a suicide – a conflicting one – that often creeps in. Anger. You feel angry at them because you see the devastation left behind. I remember Sean’s funeral, seeing his sister and his parents there and how utterly torn apart they were. And I thought, “How could you do this to them?” At the time, it seemed selfish.

And during the last episode of 13 Reasons Why, when Hannah’s parents found her in the bath tub, I couldn’t help but think about Sean’s parents and what it must have been like for them to find his body – and I cried. Hard. Harder than I’ve ever cried watching any movie or anything on TV in my entire life.

I also liked how the show depicted the difficulty of the situation as it relates to Hannah’s mental state – the way she rarely asked for help, and in many cases pushed people away, even though on the inside, she was screaming for someone to help her. I’ve been on that side of suicide, too – being the person who KNOWS that this person is in trouble and trying as hard as you can to help them, but also knowing that ultimately, there’s nothing more you can do because it’s their choice.

That’s the hardest part. I’ve been the person who practically forced myself into the house of a withdrawn suicidal friend. I’ve been the person who is frantically sending text messages to someone who posted a goodbye note on social media with no response. I’ve been the person taking on the sole responsibility for someone else’s well-being… and it’s too much. It’s too much to make yourself solely responsible for another person’s choice of whether they live or die. All you can do is just listen. And I suppose my situation is unique… I doubt most people find themselves crossing paths with more than one person in that mental state in such a short span of a few years.

13 Reason’s Why also addresses bystander apathy, where people are less likely to offer a victim help when there are other people around. I’ve seen that in action, too. When I was 16, I was at a New Year’s Eve party at the house of a much older guy from my hometown named Kyle. He was in his 20s, and he was dating a girl my age from the next town over (this sort of thing happened frequently, I grew up in a very small, rural town). This girl – we’d been conditioned not to like her because one of our friends was dating a guy from her school and at some point, she’d made our friend feel threatened in her relationships. So now, a year or two later, she was dating someone else and we were all sitting in the living room of his house on New Year’s Eve. Several of his friends were there – guys his age – along with us, and everyone was drinking. He was drunk. Too drunk.

I remember four of us sitting at a table playing a card game – myself, an older guy named Jay, and the couple in question. I don’t remember what was said or how it happened, all I remember is Kyle getting completely belligerent, standing up, reaching across the table and slapping his 16-year-old girlfriend across the face. The room went silent, and no one did anything. I was a 16-year-old girl, too, and a socially awkward, extremely introverted one at that. I was in shock and I didn’t know what to say or do. I was 16, I wasn’t really friends with Kyle, he was really angry and frankly it was scary and I didn’t think there was much I COULD do. But I do remember looking across the table at Jay – the one person in the room who was Kyle’s equal, the person who was the same age, who did know him – and waiting for him to do something. To say something. But he just sat there and looked down at the table, like everyone else.

Later that night, a group of us girls took Kyle’s girlfriend back to one of our parents house and hid her in the basement while he called incessantly demanding that we give her up. I guess, in the end, we did protect her, as best we could. For the night, anyway.

If you haven’t watched 13 Reasons Why yet, I recommend that you do. It’s real. It’s uncomfortable. And I hope that it spurs the appropriate amount of reflection on this very real problem. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know that there is an answer – at least not a simple one. It’s a complex problem and it requires a complex, multi-faceted solution, but the beginning of solving it is becoming aware of all of the aspects of it, becoming more sensitive to it, and working toward solutions collectively in small ways.

I just heard a psychologist on the news say that this show should be pulled off the air immediately because it glamorizes suicide and shows that there is no help if you ask for it, and he believes that it will make more teens want to attempt suicide. I don’t think it glamorizes suicide at all. Whether or not it will make teens want to attempt it – I don’t know. But what I do know is that it’s not directed at suicidal teens. It’s directed at the people who stand by and do nothing, and it’s meant to show them the consequences of their apathy, and begs them to do something about it.

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3 Comments

  1. I sometimes channel living people and its hard to know what is me and what isnt. This time the person or me at the time was trying to figure out the best way to commit suicide. I was lucky that people kept showing up to raise my spirits without me saying anything until I figured out it wasnt me and then I found who it was and I have just tried to be there by email (they live a long way from me) at least daily saying you are loved and tell me about your day. I dont ever want to feel that again. The hopelessness, the darkness was overwhelming. I cant imagine living with that all the time.

    Reply
    • Yes. It’s incredibly hard.

      Reply
  2. As with all your articles this one really resonated with me. When my son and his friend were caught shoplifting many years ago, and I watched the tape I was laughing my head off to the policemens’ dismay. .They only stole bubblegum to the value of about $6.00. On the tape they were waving the bubblegum sticks around in the air before putting them in their pockets. Having a ball. However the other mother was going crazy and threatening to knock some sense into her daughter. Thank goodness the kids did not have to stay in jail overnight as they were both too young. When they were released into our custody, I begged Jackie’s mom not to be too harsh on her since she was a very sensitive girl. However she ignore me and really verbally abused her in front of all of us. I said to my son. Jackie is going to commit suicide. I just knew it right there. Jackie’s mom would not let either myself or my son speak to her again. Sure enough not a week passed and Jackie was in hospital with slashed arms. Luckily her sister found her in time. Parents should get to know their children better and ALWAYS be on their side no matter what.

    Reply

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