Netflix released “13 Reasons Why” a book turned-series on March 31, 2017. Since then, I haven’t stopped thinking of the characters and their stories. There are 13 episodes in the series and I watched all of them in 5 days.
13 Reasons Why tells a tragic story of a high school girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. Before she takes her own life, she creates 13 tapes. Each episode, synonymous to each tape, is dedicated to a person or a reason why Hannah took her own life. We listen to the tapes with Clay Jensen, a boy who was a friend to Hannah. Clay, a once soft-spoken geek, turns into a pioneer for Hannah’s truth and justice.
Yes, this story is heavy. It is going to bring you into a sad place. A place that we all need to go to in order to prevent future stories like Hannah’s from happening. As we watch, we are forced to think about sexual assault, sexual abuse, physical abuse, bullying, drug abuse, depression and suicide. The truth is, we all know a Hannah Baker. This is a story for everyone. Hannah Baker’s struggles and challenges are the same challenges young men and women face every day. Even though Hannah Baker is a fictional character, suicide takes more than 40,000 lives a year in the United States a year, according to the CDC.
I encourage you to watch this series. No, it does not have a happy ending but life isn’t always Disney. *Before watching this series, please be aware that scenes and situations can create triggers.
Here are my 13 Reasons why you need to watch 13 Reasons Why
- The show teaches us how assuming always worsens a problem. Throughout the series we see Hannah and each one of her classmates consistently operating on assumption based perspectives of reality. The characters don’t seem to realize that a situation is always more complicated than what’s being spoken. Communication is not just words, what we do, or how we speak sometimes speaks louder than our words.
- Realizing the dangers of social media. Our phones are a part of us, and so are their cameras. Our world has changed and we need to acknowledge an individual’s right to privacy. The line has never been more unclear as it is now. Hannah was first bullied when a revealing photograph was taken of her and sent without her consent. Online bullying is more of a permanent problem than young people tend to think. We all need to contemplate the long lasting effect of online bullying and social media.
- 13 Reasons Why explains what abusive relationships are. (SPOILER ALERT) In the series, we see two girls get raped by the same boy. At school, he is the popular guy who plays sports. The guy who is loved by everyone and his teachers. Here, we can take away the fact that an abuser isn’t always the person to fulfill the stereotype of a rapist. We tend to think that a rapist is an older stranger yet, in most cases, rapists are the people we wouldn’t expect, the people we know. Abusive relationships take many forms. In this series, we see sexual assault, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. Abuse comes in many forms and variations and it may be a challenge to recognize it in the beginning. This is why having friendship and mentors are key. If you see someone sitting alone, or are showing a noticeable behavior change, start a conversation with him or her. Be the light.
- Life doesn’t always have a happy ending, and suicides happen all the time. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. That’s 44,193 Americans a year. 121 a day. A day. That’s a staggering number.
- 13 Reasons Why shows us how ignoring an issue makes situations worse. Although the main characters in this show are young and learning/failing at solving problems, we can see just how detrimental it can be to ignore a problem. Hannah’s 13 reasons span over a year in time. That was a year to talk to anyone. She kept details and secrets from her family and didn’t have the means to discuss her pain. Hannah did reach out for help, however. During a meeting with her guidance counselor, Hannah tried to open up about her abuse and wasn’t taken seriously.
- Realize indirect cries for help. When these characters started acting out, I felt so disappointed in the parenting strategies and the reaction of the students at the school. This series helps us to see how important it is to make an effort to check in on people that are acting out, have unexpected behaviors. Detecting odd behavior can lead to a conversation, and lead to help.
- What is good communication. The characters of this story are portrayed as awful communicators. I’m not sure whether or not people in real life are actually that bad at communicating. I’m afraid that they can be. The inability to communicate is portrayed as a typical teenage hormonal condition consisting of uninterested short and nonexistent answers to questions. Throughout the whole show, there were never any complete conversations between characters. It is important to know that having someone listen may be more important than providing your own opinion.
- Challenges of parenting. Similar to the last point I made about having good communication, having a reliable adult/parental figure is key. As Clay Jensen listens to the tapes, his parents consistently ask him about the situation at school. They notice a change in his behavior, and act on it. They attempt to have conversation but they are repeatedly shut down. I was surprised at how there is such a distance between teenager and parent. This relationship is a normal portrayal of the parent-child relationship in media, and I think there is an issue with it. Too often do we see rebellious teens, lacking a solid relationship with their parents. In this case, Clay and Hannah’s parents were good people with a strong marriage, however their kids didn’t confide in them. Could it be that it is inevitable that teenagers will always keep things from their parents? If that’s the case, the role of having a strong friendship/ mentor/guidance counselor is paramount. I call for more positive portrayal of teenager and parent relationships in television and film.
- The importance of having a friend. Each kid on the tapes come to the realization that if they had been a friend to Hannah, she wouldn’t have committed suicide. Of course, we can’t know if a real friend could have saved Hannah. However, I do know from watching the series that if she had a friend that could communicatively engage her, she would have had an outlet of hope.
- Suicide shouldn’t be romanticized. Hannah’s character went through extreme lengths to communicate to her peers after she passed. Many of the characters in the show believe Hannah had been seeking attention the whole time, can we know that? No. In reality, suicidal men and women often aren’t thinking of the other people around them. Those who battle depression probably will not leave a set of tapes describing their feelings. People with depression and suicidal thoughts are around us, and they look like you and I. These people don’t want attention. And more often than not, we do not know the reason why people take their own lives.
- How we grieve. Clay is the character we see grieve the most. We see his grieving cycle and it sheds light on the process. At first he held all of his feelings in. He was trying to ignore the pain. As he listened to the tapes, Clay becomes angry. Combined with his desire to spread Hannah’s truths, Clay does find some sort of relief from the grieving process. It is important to note that this series effectively shows how individuals grieve differently and in their own way. Having a support system is key to the grieving process in order to begin healing.
- We can never know how much we affect those around us. Every life leaves roots in every person he or she meets. We often change the lives of those around us. We all are loved and we all mean something to someone. To devalue this influence, is an incorrect vision on the world. Hannah’s character felt that her non-existence would benefit others, yet as we watch the series we see how many lives are changed forever.
- How suicide is never the answer. As we see in 13 Reasons Why, suicide doesn’t only take one life, it takes a part of all the lives this specific individual once knew. Suicide should never be an answer. If you know someone who is battling depression, go to them and listen. If you think someone’s behavior has changed, don’t be afraid to ask, “are you okay?” or offer some time to listen. Your ego will survive, but they may not.
We all knew someone that sat alone at lunch. Did you ever go and invite him to your table? We all deal with upset or angry people. Do you ever ask if he or she is okay? I hope 13 Reasons Why encourages people to observe others behavior a bit closer. I hope people can put their reputations aside and see each other as one.