By now you will have heard, read about or watched the international phenomenon that has been ’13 Reasons Why’ that is on Netflix (if not, seriously where have you been?). Even though you most likely know what it is about, I think it is appropriate to give a brief summary of the series in order for this rest of this post to flow nicely, especially if you don’t know much about it.
Set at a typical American high school, ’13 Reasons Why’ takes you through the story of why a teenage girl named Hannah Baker takes her own life. In order to make the people that impacted on her life aware of what they did to her, Hannah creates a series of recorded tapes (yes, we are kicking it old school again!) which she explains her story right from the beginning of when it all started to the very end of her life. You follow the tapes through Clay Jenson; a shy and unsociable guy, who fell in love with Hannah. Every episode is a new side to the tapes, taking you through 13 different people who ultimately ’caused’ Hannah’s death (note; I placed caused in inverted brackets for a reason! will explain my opinion later on). It is a projection of how complex and challenging high school is for many people. There are a vast array of difficulties that are faced over these years and there is not enough done to highlight them or help those in need of support feel that it is okay to talk about it.
It is such a shocking chain of events which ironically, Hannah refers to as the ‘butterfly effect’. The butterfly flaps its wings at the precisely right time, in the right place and it could cause a hurricane thousands of miles away. All that happens to her began with on event, which in turn began what was going to be the end of her life.
Mental health has become a huge topic of conversation since this was released, but it has led to a lot of controversies. Many people are praising the show’s awareness of how teenagers are at an extremely vulnerable stage in their lives and that they aren’t educated on the impact their actions can have on someone else. However, there are those who strongly believe that it is promoting suicide and glorifying this horrific act of self-destruction.
The producers of the series aimed to ‘make this as uncomfortable to watch as possible’ because it isn’t comfortable to experience in reality, which is why quite recently Netflix is putting trigger warnings into place before viewers can even watch it. I definitely understand their desire to make the greatest impact on the audience, because it is important to show just how intense the negative thought and feelings can cause a person’s mental state to deteriorate without such easy to notice signs. The ‘raw’ scenes of rape, assault, abuse, and self-harm are without question, some of the hardest things I have watched. There was a time when seeing something as explicit as these scenes would have triggered my own mental illnesses off and led me to act out self-harming behaviours, so I can see the need to protect those who are in a very vulnerable position and also prepare people for what they are about to watch.
However, I do not agree that 13 Reasons Why is negative towards mental health, but I do respect those who may feel that way about it. Though if they do feel that way about it, it makes me want to ask the question over their own mental health and whether they are themselves are in need of seeking some support. Obviously, there are things that I think could have been handled differently, but that isn’t taking away from the fact that I personally found it incredibly powerful, thought-proking and I could relate to several elements of what Hannah went through and experienced.
*Okay, so there are some spoilers about to be mentioned, so if you haven’t watched ’13 Reasons Why’ and want to, then I suggest you save this next part for another time*
The series touches on bullying, stalking, explicitly sexual photographs, sexuality, assault, and rape, all of which happen to Hannah herself. There are also other girls in the series who are also victims of such horrific experiences as well as boys who are being isolated and mentally tormented for being different.
Hannah’s story begins with what happens to the majority of girls at high school; her very first love. Now us girls are very emotional human beings as it is, but during puberty, this goes to a whole other level…maybe even another planet. Hannah falls in love, and when I say she fell, I mean she plunged right down into the depths of love’s ocean of chaos. She did all she could to impress him, going out of her way to find out what his timetable was, watching basketball when she doesn’t like sports and even plays teasing games with him. The guy she falls for is Justin; popular basketball player that comes across extremely confident, acting recklessly and well basically being a ‘typical lad’. Unfortunately, it is these guys that will more than likely break a girl’s heart, which is exactly what Justin did.
Looking back, there were many guys who I fell for that fit into these brackets, and it is only now that I can see it wasn’t really love, more of cry out to be liked and accepted by everyone. However, at that age, there is no real way of knowing this, unless you are told so. Which is why girls continue to chase after the ‘bad guys’ in order to get themselves higher on the social ladder, in the pursuit of self-esteem. It is one of many things I thank the show for highlighting, because, during this time in a girls (or boys) life, it can be so easy to be swayed towards people who are deemed popular, in order to fit in. We can do some really silly things just to be liked by those who are admired by everyone for their high social status. But this behaviour isn’t teaching us how to accept ourselves for exactly who we are and seeing the people that really matter to you and placing your value with them.
The next thing I want to touch on is the constant theme of the objectification of girls. The majority of the guys in the series seem to think they can treat them as just a body that has no emotions. It is something that really got to me as this is a subject that I can relate to in many ways.
Though my own experiences of being objectified are not as severe as some, they had a huge impact on how I thought about myself, how I viewed my body, and how I believed I was meant to be treated. How these guys treated me became the norm, like it was okay even when I could tell deep down it wasn’t. But I felt helpless to do anything for the fear of being rejected and judged. I can only imagine how much more it must impact upon a person who as been through sexual abuse.
I know girls who have had explicit photographs published or shared around for the world to see. I know of women who have been harassed both physically and mentally through them being objectified. I know of women who have been sexually abused who are still bearing the scars through their lack self-confidence and self-esteem and also suffering from mental health issues. This should not be happening.
Last but by no means least, I was so impressed with how this series projected the effects of mental health on guys. There is an even stronger stigma towards men being open about their emotions, as there are still seen to be the stronger, more confident sex with very little attachment to their feelings. However, this could not be further from the truth.
Suicide rates are higher in men than women. More men are hiding away their problems through fear of being judged as a ‘weak’ and ‘pathetic’ excuse for a guy when they are just as human as women are. I have listened to guys who are or have experienced this discrimination, and how much it has impacted upon their mental health. It pushes them further down into their illness, making it even harder to cope and see any sign of hope for a better life for themselves. It pains me to hear of such inner torment because nobody should ever believe they can’t struggle with negative thoughts and feelings.
Clay suffers from anxiety and has a history of having horrific nightmares and leave him breaking out in a huge sweat. Throughout the whole time, you see how his issues have an impact on how he interacts with others and how others treat him. He isn’t the only one to feel insecure socially, both Alex and Tyler are shown to struggle with self-acceptance and ‘fitting in’ to the high school social ladder.
I personally see that every single character has some form of insecurity issue that isn’t being addressed for them to be able to feel happy in themselves and with others. But as we all know, teenage years are extremely conflicting and confusing both physically and emotionally so it is no wonder that all of us find is hard at some point to deal with our emotions.
Will wrap this up now as I could go on and on (if you couldn’t tell!) but I hope that you can relate to what I have talked about and feel similar to me in that ’13 Reasons Why’ has been a seriously powerful tool to spark positive conversations about mental health.
It teaches us is that we all matter. We are never alone. We all have someone who loves and cares for us. We all deserve to be ourselves for exactly who are.