The Depiction of Suicidal Ideation in 13 Reasons Why

I quit watching 13 Reasons Why at the end of the third episode.

I know, that makes my little post here a bit more invalid than the many others floating around online, but hear me out. Having read summaries for the later episodes that I didn’t watch, I know that Hannah is put through a traumatic experience far beyond being subjected to asshole teenagers being assholes. So my opinion may be rendered incorrect—feel free to do so in the comments.

By the end of the first episode, I was already kind of impressed with the way teenagers were portrayed—I remember swearing that much and acting that stupid as a high schooler, too. In the following episodes, I found that the problem wasn’t with the characters themselves. The problem was with the entire lack of discussion on the subject of depression. And not having that conversation even after three episodes seemed irresponsible to me.

Rather than put a spotlight on what depression does to the person with it—what it looks like—we’re only shown the outside perspective of how Hannah is coping with things. Rather than educating us on the signs to look for, we’re just shown examples of what not to do. How are we supposed to take anything away from this series other than addressing the problem in the aftermath rather than beforehand?

Hannah Baker is troubled, yes, but we are shown no indications that she is suffering from depression or of sucidal ideation. As she goes through the sins of the people closest to her in her tapes, it doesn’t ring true. She’s angry.

Perhaps my perspective is colored by my own experience with suicical ideation, but Hannah’s affect is just…wrong. Depression isn’t sadness. It’s apathy. When you reach the state of not seeing the point in going on, or of the desire to stop inflicting yourself on others, you don’t sit down and make a series of cassette tapes outlining the reasons why you feel so lost and who you drove you to your decision. In my own experience, that’s not how it works.

Had I committed suicide in any of the instances where I’d considered it, the only person at fault for it would be me. I would never be able to blame someone else for the feelings I’ve had. I know they are irrational and a product of my own self-image. The words “kill yourself” in an Internet argument don’t trigger me into thinking “okay, I should do that.”

From what I gathered with the episodes I watched, it seemed that Clay (though being told by Hannah over the tapes that he doesn’t belong on the list of people who gave her reason to kill herself) was being shown that, had he spoken up about his deep affection for Hannah, things would be different. And that’s both cruel to the character (despite saying “you weren’t the problem,” he will definitely feel guilt for not saying anything) and cruel to people who know someone in real life who has suicidal ideation.

The love of any one individual—romantic, friendly, familial—is not a solution. Because outside forces are not the problem. I have many people in my life who love me, but I have still struggled with thoughts of suicide. And it’s not because I feel like I’m unloved or unheard. It’s because I just…hate myself. For no reason. I feel like a burden to those loving people, and it’s an absolutely irrational way of thinking.

But most importantly? The fact that Hannah’s voice is constantly heard through her tapes, the permanence of her suicide is diminished. The presence of her voice suggests she will be able to see the aftermath of her actions, but that’s just not true. She can’t see anything. She’s dead.

Despite opening up the conversation about teen suicide, 13 Reasons Why seems to do very little to assist that conversation along.

To sum up, three episodes ended up being all I could stomach before I got too angry and frustrated to continue.

 

I want to make it clear: if you need help, it’s there. At one point in my life, I actually called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and though I don’t recall the conversation I had with the man on the other end of the phone, I do know that it truly did help me.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
The Trevor Project’s Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386

 

Links to other, more in depth reviews of the show:
Psychology Today
11 Things Wrong With 13 Reasons Why by Ariel Vaisbort
Survivors Explain
USA Today

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