The Hidden Harms of 13 Reasons Why by Megan H.

Can watching  TV show cause one to commit suicide? Among the many million viewers of Netflix’s popular show 13 Reasons Why, a majority of them being young women. The question would need to be answered as one dives deeper into the show. Hidden under all the relatable content are some negative influences that can inflict harm, in particular young adolescents and those at high-risk of suicide. 

Someone watching 13 Reasons Why would find themselves clicking episodes after episodes at 3am under their covers. The dramatic scenes, storylines, suspense just has a way to pull the viewer into the scene.  Just like other drama series 13 Reasons Why is filled with scenes of bullying. People tend to assume every school has one of those gangs of bullies but in this series, bullying is portrayed as something part of a daily routine, something used to solve problems, something that you could do and just get away with. Though we’ve been told our whole lives to not be the bully and to steer away from them, this series ironically makes it seem … normal. 

Throughout the whole series, there were many instances where students would bully each other out of hatred. People would steal each other’s things, threaten each other/blackmail, spread unwanted pictures around etc,. Even the “hero” Clay, had condoned cyber bullying before. He took a picture of  Tyler naked while stalking him yet that still wasn’t even for him, he sent it to multiple people, completely invading his privacy and committing an act of cyber bullying. His consequence? Nothing at all he was just another bully that got away with it. 

One of the most upsetting scenes however was where the whole school’s boys were fighting each other in the hallways and at the end the teachers’ attempt to stop the chaos was not only fruitless but they became part of it. Teachers are looked up to as figures in our lives that guide our way through our adolescent life and shape who we are. If teachers were to join in a fight instead of stopping it, this might give viewers the wrong impression of the use of violence. One should never resort to violence. 

Despite the negative impression this series might bring about usage of violence, the misconception about mental health and suicide would be the one that brings the most detrimental and long-lasting effect. When the show initially released, it sparked controversial debates among many mental health experts. But why? The harm is conveyed by the show’s apparent romanticizing of suicide. Hannah’s suicide wasn’t just a typically one. Even after her death, her presence could still be felt everywhere from the 13 tapes she recorded before committing suicide. Each one of the tapes contained a different reason for who and what pushed her to her breaking point.

Even though this may seem like a normal suicide note, what viewers won’t realize at first is the motive. In one of the tapes Hannah described how both Justin and her witnessed Jessica get raped but couldn’t do anything about it and how that made guilt weigh heavy on her shoulders. “How could you, Justin, live with that?” By phrasing it this way, it’s evident that Hannah wanted Justin to remember what he did and for him to live with the guilt forever. There were also instances where she lied in her tapes. During Zach’s tape she blamed him for breaking her by throwing away a note she hand wrote for him but in reality he always kept it safe in his wallet. There were also other tapes where she twisted the stories or pinpoint specific moments that would cause controversy and cause someone to be haunted with guilt. It becomes blatant that her motive might’ve been to cause chaos and finally getting her revenge for everyone that has done her wrong. As a show that claims to spread awareness about mental health, in a way it showcases suicide as a heroic act and even romanticizes it as Hannah has the last laugh. 

Not only does it romanticize suicide, it also gives out the wrong idea about mental health. It’s safe to say that Hannah had a tough high school career, from being bullied to being raped which she claimed led up to her death. This is the first red flag as mental health experts have pointed out that these things do not lead up to suicide rather it is depression and anxiety which she was obviously suffering from. This could be seen from her impulsive decisions like cutting her hair, dressing in dark and baggy clothes and ultimately killing herself. These cannot just be cured from more love and care from friends/family as the show presents it to. Rather it is from seeking help from professionals like psychiatrists, therapists, counselors etc,. The show rather portrays Liberty High’s school counselor, Mr.Porter, as one of the causes of Hannah’s death. This is the opposite of what the message to the viewer should be.

For the sake of millions of young adolescents watching the show, we must provide countermeasures to tame the detrimental effects that may be inflicted upon them. These effects are exacerbated by the embracement of mental illness and bullying.  In no way am I suggesting against watching this nerve wracking show but it should be advised against those suffering from mental illness or at a high risk of suicide. It is also crucial that the youth watching this show gets the correct idea about the many misconceptions that this show presents. If these steps are not taken, the answer would undoubtedly be yes, watching a show could cause one to suicide.