"13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

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"13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

Have you seen "13 Reasons Why"?

Image result for 13 reasons why

 

It was released recently on Netflix and is fast becoming the next big thing. It's based on a YA (young adult) novel by Jay Asher that was published in 2007 and won some awards. Netflix made the series and Selena Gomez executive produced. It spans 13 episodes, with each episode a side of a cassette tape recorded by Hannah Baker who is the main girl who suicides at the beginning of the story. Each episode or 'side' revolves around a person, all but one are fellow students, who wronged Hannah and 'caused her death'. The storyline jumps from the past, with the main character listening to the tapes and reliving the past as Hannah experienced it, and the present where everyone is partly dealing with the fallout from Hannah's suicide but mostly with fear about the tapes getting out.

 

Since it's release there's been a lot written and said about the series. On one hand, there are people who claim the series de-stigmatises mental health issues and suicide. That it's responsible for bringing the conversation out into the open and helping parents understand what their teenagers are going through. On the other hand, there are people, including mental health professionals, accusing the series of misrepresenting teen suicide in a deeply irresponsible and unprofessional way and possibly doing more harm than good.

 

Here is an article by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health stating the show "sends the wrong messages about suicide risk" and does nothing to encourage help-seeking.

 

Here is an article by Junkee that interviews a Headspace Manager who says Headspace have been contacted by young people distressed after watching the series and teachers who state students have aired concerns in their classrooms. 

 

I've seen the series. And I absolutely fall into the latter. It depicts the very thing that people, who work with young people thinking about suicide, try to convey 'There is no resolution once you die. Not for you, not for anyone.' Except in '13 Reasons...' there is. The tapes lay out the specific reasons why she's doing it. Everyone hears and learns. They feel terrible and wish they had treated her better. They change their ways and grow as people, thanks to Hannah and her death. As a parent, how chilling is that!

 

I could go on for ages about all the things I struggled with but I'm keen to hear your views. And if you haven't seen it, have you experienced something similar with another show / movie / book? Or have you seen it done well?

Parent Peer Supporter

Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

This is a copy and paste of a facebook status I posted yesterday with a link to a couple of articles (one from Headspace). Unfortunately I discovered my 15 year old (with recent suicidal ideation and still self harming) was watching them after she was half way through the series. So I speed watched it all in 2 days so that I could have open discussion ...

 

If you have Netflix chances are your teenager has or is watching 13 Reasons Why. I discovered that my daughter was when she was half way through and I had no idea what it was about.

I suggest you watch it too (you know they'll watch it anyway because it's what their friends are all talking about) and then have the discussion. The last 2 episodes are dreadfully confronting (particularly the last).

My first thoughts are that ...
- Suicide needs to be discussed so use this as an opening for conversation.
- A person who commits suicide doesn't need Reasons.
Sometimes they are in a terrible dark place of depression that is quite different to the story. Mental Illness is not that cut and dry and there often no clear reasons at all.
- The story seemed to place blame and guilt on those who didn't help. And it didn't show any viewpoint of getting help and support. In fact, it showed that no one helped Hannah and changed the outcome regardless of her asking her teacher in the end. That isn't always the case. It is more likely that if you ask for help you will get the love and support you need.

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Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

@LovingThruBlue I agree with you, I feel like it's focal point is a bit off course with the entire scope of mental health and suicide. It's unfortunate too that this show really is targeting a vulnerable age group, it's easy to forget too that our kids brains are still in the developmental stage whilst they're taking in such heavy "hollywoodized" views of suicide.

Prolific scribe

Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

I totally disagree  with the comments made regarding this incredibly painful and raw series . It was for me a seminal and outstanding lens on psychological trauma and the aftermath of assault . It  looked at suicide from ONE of the many many different contexts in which suicide emerges for a person as the final chapter of their painful experiences.   It was not meant to cover every back story of every suicide , it was presenting ONE  scenario in ONE school in ONE town , to ONE girl and ONE community . It is not meant to represent all reasons that people suicide , for some there may be none that are environmental especially if the person has a serious psychiatric illness . What is showed was that we collectively over time , can be culpable not in causing someone to kill them selves - that is always ultimately their decision but in creating an environment when this could be a possibility for someone who is fragile , sensitive, quiet, introverted , lonely , hurting , and self conscious .

 NOBODY comes out with a clean slate . Even  Clay who did nothing but hurt her feelings , said at the end we are all at fault . Even Hannah was at fault for not being fully open with her parents and with the school counsellor . Sometimes teens don't have the right language to express what they feel and adults  don't read the sub text , or fill in the gaps  as the student counsellor didnt in this case . He was not a rotten counsellor , he just did not handle that encounter as well as he could have .   It was also a particular school culture that encourage girls not to talk about  the terrible treatment by the male sporting heroes at the school because they were popular and revered . This was the perfect culture for such terrible consequences to eventuate . It was a pefect set of circumstances and toxic ingredients. 

If you focus on blame as the takeaway from this series you are missing the point of the whole terrible story which is : 

Every one plays their part  in the building blocks of pain , hurt and  despair , when you choose to be mean spirited , treat someone disrespectfully  or hurt them .  Not even the victim was blameless , she choose to keep quiet , when it would have been in her best interest to speak out , to let others know how despairing she was so they could help her . The message it is trying to convey is this :

Think about what you say, think about what you do . You never know what is going on in someone's life that may be further impacted by your negative words or deeds . You never know what kind of person your victim is . They may bottle it all up and act irrationally to get rid of the pain . If you make a mistake , apologise and mean it and don't have an ulterior motive or agenda . It has to be heartfelt and honest . If you are being mistreated , speak up , you must let others know what is going on for you or they can't help . It's not about the intricacies and facts of suicidal behaviours it is about understanding the potential impact of what we do and say to others . 

I think this series should be shown to all teens over 15 and shown to younger teens without the swearing and graphic scenes . I binged watched it over 3 days..  phenomenal. 

Super contributor

Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

@motherbear I actually agree with what you've said. I binge watched it too and that was because, for the first 10 episodes, I couldn't stop watching. I loved the way they played with time and I loved the way they created tension in revealing tiny pieces of information at a time.

 

And I agree with you that this is not about all suicides or all people. And I also agree with you that it's incredibly important for people to recognise the impact they can have on others. But, the problem I have is when I have worked with young people contemplating suicide one of the big ideas I try and convey is that they won't exist after they die.

Which sounds silly but that's exactly what they show in the series. Hannah dies at the beginning and yet she 'lives on' in the tapes and their minds, so much so that they 'see' her (well, Clay does) and she manages to change them as people and help them grow. The message is 'my death will have a purpose'. 

What we want young people contemplating suicide to think is, 'my life has a purpose and my death will be meaningless. It won't create resolution it will only bring pain.' 

That combined with the idea that someone can die and leave behind something that will resolve everything for everyone is also a dangerous idea for young people feeling that sense of despair. Often young people will cite not wanting to hurt their friends and family as the sole thing that kept them alive. If they are given the idea that they could write or record a story that will answer everyone's questions and wrap everything up neatly, that might be all they need to cross the line. And I'm not normally one for Disney endings but they deliberately went against best practice to show that scene in the bath.  

 

As you say, there is a lot to love about the show. I loved the characters especially Clay and I always love shows that depict an authentic adolescent experience. I just didn't love the messaging.

 

But, I love that you loved it. And I love that we can all love different things here without an issue.

 

What do you think? And thanks for your input too @LovingThruBlue 

 

Prolific scribe

Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

Hi @Ngaio-RO , great points you raise about the possible messaging from this narrative . I think if this series had been a documentary about suicide in all its permutations and a vehicle for suicide pyschoeducation then it would have  certainly missed the mark and sent the wrong message as you mentioned . We don't want kids to ever think that if you do decide to die then we all can learn a lesson from it and therefore your death had a purpose and was worthwhile. I certainly did not take away that message because it was not supposed to be  an  pyschoeducational tool per se . It was a Hollywood teen drama . 

It was primarly a form of  dramatic entertainment, as many gruelling difficult dramas are today,  and therefore despite the horrendous content was meant to convey someone's life and death story , as a tragic outcome of a litany of colliding experiences and irrational decision making .   A gripping serious raw narrative yes but not a  professional manual for statistical suicide reality, facts and avoidance  or a guide for teens . I think the critics were giving it an elevated position and purpose  it did not ask for or is able to qualify for . 

 

 

 

 

Parent Peer Supporter

Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

Funny I see this post today. My daughter raised it with me this morning. She finds it horrible, she doesn't like it at all, but her best friend, who has her own mental health issues, watches it and likes it.

 

I'll have to watch it to form my own opinion.  

Prolific scribe

Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

Hi @taokat . Love to hear what you take  away from it .  I am a teen drama teacher and all my kids are talking about it ! How great is that ! The nunanced issues of  culpability and ownership and that death is never a solution or a punishment for those left behind , is being unpacked and analysed - that can only be a positive !  I think it's a sign of a  controversial series that has done its job , loving it or hating it are both worthwhile reactions as it opens dialogue . 

I would hate the thought that an at risk teen would watch it alone or just with friends who never discussed its meaning . This is a worry, but then we see many dramas where suicide is part of the fabric of the story , is this any different ?  Its based on a novel that many teens have read anyway , bringing it to the screen is a much better way of ensuring that at risk teens get access to pyschoeducation around it . 

Super contributor

Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

It's wonderful to hear you and your students are discussing this at length @motherbear particularly from the angles you describe.

If the series does nothing more than spark an honest discourse about the impact of suicide and why young people feel like it's their only option, then it's served a great purpose.

 

So interesting to hear your daughter and her friend having such different experiences @taokat. Did your daughter say what it was that she didn't like?

Parent Peer Supporter

Re: "13 Reasons Why" has a lot to answer for.

Wow! Strangely I had a very different reaction to 13 Reasons Why than I did watching the other documentaries. I have to say that I found the series very difficult to watch. There was so much about it I didn't like. I found it actually glorified suicide and by making up such a long winded story about it I found quite inappropriate. There are enough real life stories, and I believe fabricating this story actually makes light of real life issues. 

 

It came across to me as being clearly made for the screen, full of suspense, mystery and revenge. I felt it was purely a story - not made to benefit the cause of suicide awareness or prevention and I'm saddened that it's been given so much exposure as being part of the cause. 

 

I get that it does get across the message that by being silent, you make yourself as culpable as the perpetrators. I hope it does make teens think about their behaviour and words, and how they can affect others. I just think true stories should be used to do that with such a sensitive issue. 

 

I think it's a very dangerous tv show for at risk teens, as it puts across the message that suicide can be used as a form of revenge, and if done properly, you can get back at everyone who ever did you wrong. I found it quite bizarre (quite possibly showing my ignorance?) that Hannah put so much effort into planning how the tapes would be distributed and the effect they'd have, let alone making two copies of the tapes. 

 

I did ask my daughter about it @Ngaio-RO, and she said there are too many triggers in it for her and she didn't like that it showed sexual assault. She thinks it's too graphic and said that it offended her, making a tv show about such a sensitive topic. She said it's like when girls at school used to say they were 'depressed' because they were upset about something, or 'bipolar' because they were on their periods and a bit moody. 

 

I must admit that's they way I saw it too. I keep in mind though that we don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.