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Why 'Thirteen Reasons Why' Didn’t Accurately Depict My Struggles With Suicidal Thoughts

Back when I was 18 and struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, I decided to read a very recommended, very raved young adult novel called “Thirteen Reasons Why.” The vast majority of reviews on Goodreads (the popular social network in which you can rate and review books) were positive, and they emphasized how heartbreaking and honest Jay Asher’s novel was. After I read it myself, however, I couldn’t help but think that “Thirteen Reasons Why” didn’t accurately depict my struggles with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. Nor did it reflect what my suicidal friends were facing either. It was as if Jay Asher had written a book about suicide in which mental health was a very secondary character.

“Thirteen Reasons Why,” in fact, begins after one of its protagonists, Hannah, dies by suicide. The very action that triggers the plot struck me as toxic and harmful: Clayton, the male protagonist, receives a series of tapes in which Hannah explains why she’s decided to take her own life. Soon afterwards we discover that Clayton is not the only one who has received those tapes, and that those people weren’t chosen randomly by Hannah: they are the ones she was blaming for her imminent suicide.

Bullying and slut-shaming (what Hannah’s peers did to her) might in fact lead to suicide, as unfortunately was the case when Canadian teen Amanda Todd took her life in late 2012. And while I agree that Hannah’s classmates hurt her and negatively impacted her mental health, I think that solely putting the blame on them is simplistic and might even potentially harm those dealing with the same problems Hannah dealt with.

Putting all the blame of suicide on people does not help normalize this devastating reality. Fact is, suicide and suicidal thoughts are very complex problems in which society certainly has an influence, but there can be other factors, too.

I think it is extremely important that cultural manifestations that deal with suicide, such as “Thirteen Reasons Why,” exist, and more so if their target audience are teens. “Thirteen Reasons Why” does a good job portraying how seemingly small things might gradually take a toll on your mental health.

As a society we have the moral responsibility of preventing suicide and offering help to those dealing with mental illnesses and suicidal thoughts. I’m glad that the new Netflix series based on Jay Asher’s book is starting an open conversation about suicide, but the message that someone’s suicide is to be blamed on somebody else is dangerous because it fails to acknowledge the fact that mental health is a huge factor on why suicidal people take their lives.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” raises awareness about bullying and slut-shaming, but not about the very real consequences of living with a mental illness. Recognizing and battling both factors would have been crucial to prevent Hannah’s suicide, and that, in my opinion, is the message the novel, and now the TV series, should have sent.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Lead image via “Thirteen Reasons Why” Facebook page