13 Reasons Why was released in March of this year and quickly became the most popular Netflix show ever, practically every teen was watching it. The show is about a teenager, Hannah, who commits suicide and leaves behind thirteen tapes, each tape dedicated to one person and how he/she contributed to Hannah’s suicide. She recorded the tapes so that each person can listen to them, and can hear what they did wrong and how much their actions affected Hannah’s life. After listening to the tapes, they feel guilty and accountable for Hannah’s death.
I know that 13RW is many people’s favorite show, but there is a major flaw in it: in my view, the series romanticizes suicide and contains events that may trigger those currently suffering from depression. The show portrays suicide as the only action that will cause people to change their actions towards those suffering from depression (whether those people know it or not), which therefore positively reinforces suicide. But in reality, there are other ways that can help people change their behavior, such as simply talking to them about their actions and making them aware of the effect they have.
In addition to suicide, the show also portrays sexual assault, slut-shaming, drug use, etc. Selena Gomez, a producer on the show, said she wanted the series to bring awareness to all these issues, and to have it encourage people to go do something about it (source). However, I believe 13RW could have done so in a more effective way. For example, the show could have emphasized more the signs of depression and focused on how Hannah’s depression culminated and eventually led to her suicide. In the end, I believe the show doesn’t actually achieve its goal of bringing awareness to these issues, and it may even make matters worse. The show doesn’t highlight the fact that people’s actions can affect others, especially those suffering from depression. The show also doesn’t encourage people to change how they treat others.
When people see others committing suicide, it makes it seem more acceptable if they were to follow and commit suicide themselves. After Marilyn Monroe committed suicide in 1962, suicide rates increased by 12% in that month (source). Now that 13RW is out, there’s a reasonable possibility that suicide rates may increase as well, unfortunately, and though Netflix did add trigger warnings at the beginning of some episodes, it’s not enough. A 23-year-old man already mimicked the show by leaving behind thirteen tapes after committing suicide (read more about it here).
While the producers of the show had good intentions, I don’t think they effectively conveyed the importance of recognizing the signs of depression and ways to interact and help those suffering from depression, nor did they potentially encourage any type of real social change. If you are going through any of the issues 13RW depicts, I advise you to not watch this show as it can be really triggering and impactful.