13 Reasons Why: Yay or Nay

13 Reasons Why: Yay or Nay

By Jay Marburger

Courtesy of Netflix

It’s the most tweeted about show of 2017 (according to Twitter data exclusively obtained by Variety, a popular entertainment source online). In the social media world, that’s a really big deal. Film critics haven’t been left behind too. IMDb, the largest, most comprehensive movie database on the Web, gave it a rating of 8.6/10…which isn’t half bad at all.

What is the story in 13 Reasons Why?


A teenager, Clay Jensen played by Dylan Minnette, finds a box of tapes on his porch and in it he finds some cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who was his classmate and committed suicide some two weeks earlier. On these tapes she explains the thirteen reasons why she decided to take her life. It’s anyone’s guess why this show has tongues wagging as much as it does.

Hannah Baker’s recordings are emotional. There are issues on bullying, sexual assault, and perhaps the most disturbing issue of all is the depression that led to an act of suicide, a mental health concern. In an episode of the first season, Hannah Baker’s suicide is shown to the audience…a move that has elicited reactions from many, both negative and positive.

One argument against has to do with the vulnerability of the target audience intended for 13 Reasons Why; teenagers. Would a graphic portrayal of a suicide be beneficial to this audience that can be quite impressionable? Would it cause them to think against suicide, or would they look at it as a viable option out when they are hurting?

One of the writers of the show, Nic Sheff, has a different opinion. Himself a suicide survivor, he says he thought not showing the suicide in all its brutal honesty would be irresponsible. With reference to his own suicide attempt, it was the details of another suicide survivor’s details of her own attempt that gave him the motivation to not give up and remain alive. We cannot deny there is some truth in sometimes painting the picture as it really is for a better informed interpretation of a situation.

Did you ever watch the Passion of the Christ? Do you remember the awfully graphic scenes of Christ being whipped, tortured and being nailed to a cross? Did it add power to the story, or should it have been dialed down a notch or two? Did seeing how painful His experience was help you appreciate the meaning His sacrifice for us?

I know of someone very close to me who has struggled with mental health issues, up to the point of suicidal attempts. I have seen the struggles she goes through, the intense moments of hopelessness and the defeated attitude and posture she will often adopt. One thing I do know is, for many, suicide is usually a desperate attempt to not feel pain any more. Emotional pain can be so intense, it borders on paralyzing for some. She’s watched the series, and I was curious about her opinion. Did 13 Reasons Why resonate with her at all, and what did she feel about the message?

She identified with Hannah, in some ways; more so, on feeling pain so intense and not knowing how to share it, or have it understood leading to a state of depression. Having carried out suicide attempts in the past, she was able to identify with Hannah in those last moments before she took her life. The tears, the visible pain and the drama and ceremony of that entire experience. It’s raw, and real. And very very sobering.

13 Reasons Why told someone else’s story…but it could have been hers. Mental health is not those topics that are talked about from the top of the hill, but rather, behind closed doors with very hushed tones. The stigma faced by people struggling with mental health issues is unfortunate as many have felt safer to battle within, and sadly, many have succumbed.

While I can see the truth in being responsible over content that has potential to influence thought patterns, I also see the relevance of showing things as they really are. When Netflix first launched the show, it did not have any warnings encouraging viewers who may be struggling with mental health issues to seek for help. With the outcry from members of the public and some mental health institutions, they now have added advisories including a warning at the beginning of the first episode of the show. Is this enough however?

I do appreciate the production of the show itself. The actors do a good job of depicting their characters. The storyline is interesting to follow, as sad as it’s contents may be. I personally appreciated the choice of tracks used throughout the show.

Aesthetics aside though, I do appreciate that it has brought up all this conversation concerning mental health. I also do recognize the need for responsible filming. It’s not enough to produce a show that has addressed an issue as deep as mental health without some sort of call to action, specifically towards finding healing and spreading hope.

Perhaps in demonizing the show itself though, we should ask ourselves if this show is the problem, or the conversations it is forcing us to have. Are there other ways to depict mental health issues on film without glamorizing it, or causing a contagion effect? Or do we really need to start talking about the real reasons such a show is causing such reactions; perhaps there are underlying issues we never talk about, and 13 Reasons Why gave many that chance.

Feedback? Comments? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts if you’ve watched the show.


9 thoughts on “13 Reasons Why: Yay or Nay

  1. Mary says:

    If i were suicidal, i think this film gives me the perfect way to revenge. Hannah is no different from all her bullies

    1. Thanks for your comment Mary. Could you possibly share a bit more by what you mean by your comment? Is it that Hannah’s choice to commit suicide, and perhaps going further by creating those tapes is just as wrong as what her bullies did?

  2. Baro says:

    I watched the show and couldn’t go beyond episode 4. The reason being I wasn’t satisfied with other secondary storylines/themes depicted. As for the main theme however, my take is that there are people who’re looking for hope and seeing someone take this approach when all else fails, it becomes very seductive for them to pursue suicidal tendencies and terminate their lives.
    There’s a struggle between those who’d like to have someone listen to their struggles or despondency and fear of not exposing their vulnerabilities to others lest they be the object of ridicule or scorn – social media has really fueled this. I would not recommend it to viewers who show signs of depression or have had prior suicide attempts. I believe those who have such issues should get professional advice and lots of support from people close to them. Engaging in activities which they have a passion for is also a good therapy.

    1. Thanks for your comment Baro. It’s true that those who have ever considered suicide may be motivated to make another attempt, however, is that always true? Is there a place for telling the story from the perspective of the one feeling pain without glossing over or glamorizing anything?
      Perhaps that is where the aspect of responsible filming comes up, considering the general theme. Letting people know that there are avenues they could use to help deal with what they are going through, rather than suffer alone.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I struggle with what I believe is depression with lately having thoughts of how it would feel to not go through the pain that comes with it during the peak moments
    I have not watched the series. Will I? I am not so sure. I do not know how I will react to it.
    Mental illness is not just about being “mad” and being confined to a mental hospital.
    It’s about what I and many people out there, like me, suffering in silent go thorough. Moments of feeling totally unworthy, ugly, incapable,spoilers of everything good. It’s been gripped with fear and so many insecurities arising from things we have gone through in the past, rejection and also shame.
    I’m the meantime I hold on to the good days. Sometimes worried that they have lasted longer than they ought to be. Trying to pray through the bad days that this shall come to pass one day. Withdrawing from anyone/anything that bring joy.
    So, yes from my experience, mental illness is a discussion that has been long overdue. Let’s accept it’s in our society already and not something meant for the first world countries.
    Let’s be there for people who approach is for help but most importantly, let’s not wait for them to approach us. We are already afraid.

    1. Hi,
      Thanks so much for sharing your personal experience. You are right, mental illness is not about being mad or getting confined to a hospital. I also know that for some, it’s also just not a one “bad day” or an “I’ll get over it in the morning” experience. It’s also true that there is a lot of stigma around mental health so there is much that needs to be taught and shared. There is a shared responsibility from society to be more accepting, empathetic and supportive to those who are suffering.

      It’s not an easy journey, but I hope you can take courage in the fact that God is not blind to all the hurt and pain you may feel. There are many people in the Bible who struggled with very low moments (eg Jer 20:14,18; Job 30:15-17) who cried out to God in their despair and clung onto God and His Promises. As cliche as this may sound, you never are truly alone..regardless of how it may feel or look to you.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Having watched the series, I think we have two sides of looking at it…positively or negatively. As much as it would look like its encouraging suicidal victims to go ahead as a way of escaping all the pain and as much as it guilt trips everyone around (who would like to listen to a tape of a suicide victim claiming that you are the reason they did it?), we should also learn from it. Look out for each other, help a friend as soon as you identify the warning signs on them, make things right while we can, seek help for the victims who feel suicidal. Lets not predict a bleak future to a point of opting for suicide…the latter is permanent , but the problems we are facing are temporal, although we may not forget the pain, theres always a solution no matter how hard it may seem.
    Generally, its informative, lets not ignore these things…its a sensitive and very vital topic but we need to be proactive to curb even the slightest thought of suicide, and one way of doing so is to be one step ahead.

    1. Hi there!
      Isn’t it interesting though how the two sides of the coin have brought about such differing opinions? Like you, I feel there was some information that came across especially in terms of what emotions may be experienced by those who are struggling, which are helpful in identifying signals that may be cause for concern. Considering some people do not truly understand the suffering that may be experienced, could the visuals and story line used give us some sort of window into what that person’s experience may be? Would this help with developing empathy?

      To be fair, this show was not just written by the production team in a vacuum. There apparently was extensive consultation with mental health professionals on what could or could not be shared responsibly. Perhaps their error was in airing the show initially without some sort of solution suggested. I doubt their mission was to encourage suicide, but they could have handled the being proactive about it better.

  5. Mwikali says:

    13 Reasons why gave me a Window to peep through a teens life. The issues that to them are life and death… nudes being leaked, rumors, crashes that are so passionate they think this is the love of their life etc. A window into how some of these issues which neither I nor my generation might consider grave enough for someone to consider suicide…flash foward a few months later, my 17 year old niece is admitted to hospital on suicide watch. She had been cutting herself. Amongst the reasons: 1. Bullying in school 2. Rumours that she’s a lesbian
    Having experienced the window through 13 reasons why, i feel that it made me approach the conversation with her differently. I appreciated her life and death issues without downplaying it and giving it a “Why would a 17 year old want to end their life? Do they even know what life is?”
    It made me stand firm in her defence against family who felt she was just being a “millennial”, against people who don’t recognise mental illness as a disease and thought medical/professional help was a waste of money.
    I would recommend it, because if you watched it you’d have wondered how no one saw the signs. Also, why didn’t Sarah speak out?
    It makes you asks yourself the question, do you have a relationship with your child/niece/friend that is safe for them to knoe they can come to you with any issue?

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