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One Reason Why: How 13 Reasons Why Got It So Wrong

I didn’t watch Netflix’s series 13 Reasons Why for a long time. I had been hesitant to watch the show primarily due to its reported handling of very difficult subject matter. I’d heard many things about the show which led me to believe that it did not do justice to the issues it purported to tackle. I believed I would find it upsetting and reductive. However, a desire to make an informed opinion finally got the best of me, and when my sister and her fiancé sat down to watch the show I found myself joining in.

I am a huge believer that topics such as mental health need to be discussed. I am an advocate of using television and storytelling as a means of igniting conversation and spreading awareness. However, 13 Reasons Why falsely markets itself as a show about suicide and depression. For a show concerned with the lack of conversation about suicide, it remains surprisingly quiet throughout regarding depression. Rather than exploring this topic in a meaningful and thought-provoking manner, suicide is treated as a cheap vehicle for drama and is reduced to the consequences of bullying, sexual assault and isolation. Whilst these are all topics that should be explored, doing so in the guise of talking about depression muddies the water on depression as a disorder. Many people are bullied, but not all of them suffer from depression or experience suicidal ideation. 13 Reasons Why does not seem to understand what depression really is, nor does it seem to care to explore it, and further complicates the matter for its audience.

I disagree with the very concept of the show: that there are thirteen reasons why someone commits suicide. 13 Reasons Why simplifies the mental illness and reduces it to external problems only, which many people face in their lives; while these undoubtedly greatly impact a person’s depression, they are not the full story of depression. The show exploits the ‘hot topic’ of mental illness as a means to explore fictitious drama. The structure of the show follows Clay as he listens to the thirteen tapes and uncovers plot twists and secrets about the cast of characters who had been in Hannah’s life up until her death. This feels almost like a murder mystery, grotesque in its treatment of her death. Hannah’s suicide is turned into a narrative technique allowing the show to explore high school drama in a ‘unique and original’ manner. Furthermore, the unnecessarily graphic depiction of Hannah’s suicide is the epitome of gratuitous and presents a very damaging picture to vulnerable viewers. The way that 13 Reasons Why handles Hannah’s depression and suicide is harmful and exploitative.

I never had high hopes when I started watching 13 Reasons Why, yet I still find myself upset and disappointed. People need to be educated about depression and other mental health problems, and storytelling is a fantastic means of doing so. Having said this, such a topic needs to be handled far more delicately and those who suffer from it with far more understanding and respect than 13 Reasons Why has been able to deliver.

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