4 Important Lessons From '13 Reasons Why'
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741
“You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret… is to press play.” — “Thirteen Reasons Why”
We live in 21st Century America. We are the generation of technology. We hide behind the anonymity of a screen and speak our minds freely, for better or for worse. We are the generation of internet bullying, cyber stalking, and peer pressure. Our social media has taken over our lives. This has its benefits, yes, but more often than not, we hear of the horrors that come with it. Our television and movies follow similar trends and are filled with violence, objectification of the human form and foul language. These things are what is popular and what is sensationalized.
So, when I read of one of my favorite books becoming a movie, I admit, I was immediately intrigued.
I have read hundreds — no thousands — of books in my lifetime. It has always been a big part of who I am. I am ashamed to say this, but when I read “Thirteen Reasons Why” for the first time, I was appalled. You see, at this time, I was a mere fifth grader and had not yet learned the lessons on mental health I now know. I fell prey to the media’s portrayal as mental health being “taboo” and a subject that shouldn’t be discussed. Yet, here I was reading this book that rawly and emotionally captured a young girl’s suicide, the reasons behind it and the aftermath. Looking back, that one book was the spark that ignited the fire in me to view mental health differently although I admit it did not fully occur until late middle school. There are few books I read again, as when I read a book I tend to remember it almost perfectly. However, I have read “Thirteen Reasons Why” more times than I care to say.
“13 Reasons Why” is the Netflix series which premiered March 31 and is based on author Jay Asher’s young adult bestseller “Thirteen Reasons Why.” It is about what happens when the bullying, sexting, betrayed friendships, doublespeak conversations and sheer loneliness of high school get to be too much for teenager Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) that she ultimately takes her own life. But Hannah wasn’t going down without naming some names. Her suicide note comes in the form of audio recordings, in which she recounts exactly what — and who — led her to fall into this pit of hopelessness. The finger pointing and slut shaming among the accused evolves into such a frenzy that alliances are formed and friends turn on each other. This all happens under the watchful eye of Clay Jensen, an outsider with a penchant for typical boy cluelessness: saying the inappropriate and lacking the social awareness to understand when a girl wants to date him. Played by Dylan Minnette, Clay is both the slowest listener to audio recordings ever and teenager least aware of what he did to hurt Hannah. As Clay becomes a vigilante to save the girl who is too late to rescue, he doesn’t realize these two traits mean he could also be the survivor who has the most to lose.
For some it can be almost easy to lose yourself in the gossip and drama typical of any high school, coming of age story. This is one of the reasons the show is so important. “13 Reasons Why” is much more than one girl’s tragic story. It hold many lessons each and every one of us can learn from.
1. This could be any girl at any school.
Liberty High (the setting of the show) is a typical school. The show portrays well the friendship woes, the dating craze, the pressure to fit in, the bullying and prejudice that occurs and the stresses of keeping up with your courses alongside extracurriculars. Hannah Baker is a typical girl. She has a job, friends, a boyfriend (at one point) and even went to parties. However, she is also the victim of bullying and sexual harassment. Yet, she never stopped smiling and pretending everything was OK. This description, unfortunately, fits many teenage girls (and boys) in our society.
2. Everyone had a chance to save Hannah from herself.
Her parents, played by Kate Walsh and Brian D’Arcy James, were too worried about money and how to keep their tiny family-run pharmacy afloat after the arrival of a big-box chain to notice the warning signs. And her well-meaning, if misguided, communications instructor unknowingly accentuates problems when she turns Hannah’s stolen, private poems into classroom conversations instead of seeing them as cries for help. I won’t go into more detail on how everyone else had a chance to save Hannah from herself, as this is the entire point of the show — however, the signs were there, hidden in some ways and abundantly present in others. But as we see clearly in our own lives, many of us are transfixed on ourselves, not looking at anything but our own worries and climbing the ladder to success, that we fail to see what is right in front of us. We see this even in the aftermath of Hannah’s suicide as the parents and teachers are too busy questioning how they didn’t see this coming to see what’s brewing among the remaining students. The show calls attention to this and I believe it can be a major wake up call to all of us. Had anyone shown her the kind of love, admiration and compassion they show her in death, perhaps she would have found the strength not to end her story.
3. Sometimes there is not a big reason.
The title of the show is “13 Reasons Why.” However, as we watch, we hear about more than just 13 reasons. There was no big cause for Hannah Baker and I believe this is important. I despise the questions “What’s wrong?” and “What is your problem?” They have always been incredibly frustrating to me, as I am sure they are to many, especially those who struggle with mental health. Sometimes (oftentimes) there is no specific reason why. It is the “seems” that appear small and unimportant that add up. This can be likened to rain. Each raindrop is so small yet, let it rain long enough, it will flood.
4. Suicide affects many people.
This is one point of the show that hit me the hardest. Everyone. I want to repeat, everyone, has been affected by Hannah’s death. Students she never spoke to, the friends she never knew she had, teachers, parents, the entire school mourns her loss. As someone who personally struggles with my mental health, I know how all too often we feel alone, as though if we were to disappear, no one would care. Societal judgement and actions further compound this. However, “13 Reasons Why” clearly illustrates how this is far from true. Everyone had a story of Hannah, something they loved, a memory, a reason they missed her. Yes, some of the students used her death as a popularity token, but the majority of others were truly affected. With this, I want to say to everyone who feels alone, hurt and broken, you are loved and cared about so much more than you realize. Whether people show it or not, I truly believe everyone has a small thing they love about every single person. This world may have seven billion people, but it needs you, your voice, your story. You are not alone. Your struggles do not define you and you are so much more than any of the cruel things that are said to you, by yourself or others.
I was speaking with someone the other day regarding the show and she told me of how she related to Hannah quite deeply and as she watched, she wished for Hannah to live. I told her if she can sit here and wish so deeply for a fictional girl to live, imagine all the people who are wishing for her to live.
Imagine all the people rooting for you to live. Please, speak up, find the help you deserve and never, ever, blow your candle out. There are resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Imalive.org, Crisischat.org and the Crisis Text Line. As my favorite Youtuber Kati Morton says, “Recovery is a process, not perfection.” It is something we work at every single day. I promise you, you are not the first to feel like this. Others have made it through it and come out better and stronger on the other side — so will you. The next chapter of your story has so much to offer. Please, I beg you to read it.
It took me quite a bit to write this article, as there are so many reasons I am in love with the show. Just as there were so many reasons why Hannah ended her life, there are equally as many reasons why this show is important. I can not possibly list them all. “13 Reasons Why” is the most emotionally raw and accurate portrayal of mental health I have seen thus far. I truly believe every single person can take something away from this show — the least of which is we never know what is going on in the lives of others. We must all do our best to be kind. This is an important step in the right direction on the path toward breaking the ever present stigma surrounding mental health.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Photo via “13 Reasons Why” Facebook page.