If you follow my blog regularly, you’ll have noticed that I haven’t posted all that much in the month of April. And I apologize for that. But in all honesty, it’s been a bit of a difficult month.
In the first few days of April, I decided to begin reading Thirteen Reasons Why, a novel by Jay Asher. I had been hearing phenomenal reviews about the show, but refused to watch it until I read the book. It was a fast read, but not always an easy one. The subject matter is dark, but the book had a certain light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m going to warn you now, this post will contain spoilers from both the book and the show, as well as potentially triggering subject matter. Please read on with caution.
I’m sure, if you’re reading this, you know the basic plot of the story. So I’m going to skip the summary and jump right to the end of the book. Though there is pain and sadness, there is hope. Clay now realizes the signs of someone feeling suicidal. He looks back and realizes Hannah was showing them. In the present, he realizes Skye is also showing them, and so he reconnects with her. Asher never explicitly says it, but we are led to believe that Clay helps Skye and, possibly, saves her.
There was a lot of controversy over the book. Is Hannah blaming people for her suicide? Is the story romanticizing suicide? What is the main message here? Well, for me, it’s about kindness. People brush off bullying as just some high school thing that happens to everyone. But the fact of the matter is we have no idea what people are going through. We have no idea how they could take things. What may seem like a funny joke to you could make them feel pain you can’t imagine. The important thing is to be kind. And if you see signs of depression, signs of any kind of pain in someone, don’t ignore them. I think we can all agree this is a pretty great message.
But the show…well, for me, it wasn’t that simple.
I have to admit, I feel nervous typing up this article. There are so many strong opinions out there, as there should be. And I’d be lying if I said opening up about such a deeply personal subject didn’t scare me. But maybe you’re wondering if you should watch the show. Maybe you have experiences with this kind of thing. And maybe you’re scared it will trigger. If I can help one person avoid pain, any potential backlash will be worth it.
So, what did I think of the Netflix show, Thirteen Reasons Why?
As a filmmaker and writer, I have immense respect for it. It covered a lot of taboo topics, and it wasn’t afraid to see light and dark in all characters. But as someone who has personally struggled with thoughts of suicide…it’s a different story. As someone who had almost identical rumors spread about her in high school, to say it brought me back to a place I didn’t want to go, is an understatement.
I know what you might be thinking right now. Why didn’t I just stop watching it? If it got too intense, why didn’t I just turn it off? Believe me, I tried. But my mind was conjuring things far worse than any show could ever portray. It was a matter of closure. And honestly, I hoped that maybe the show would be cathartic. And maybe for some people it is. But for me, that was not the case.
In regards to the actual suicide scene itself, I need to say this. What you are hearing is not an exaggeration. There are no cutaways. No dramatic music as the camera focuses away from her. It is in your face, and it is graphic. That being said, I do not think it was romanticized. I didn’t view it that way. It was disturbing and utterly horrifying, but that is how it was intended. There was no ignoring it. And let me explain why I think this actually could be a good thing.
We live in a society that still pushes mental health aside. That when a young adult, or even someone in their early twenties admits to self harm, many are told that it is nothing more than “an angsty teen phase”. We live in a society that brushes important issues off because it is too uncomfortable and too painful to deal with. This scene is something you cannot ignore. It shows it all. And as painful, and yes, triggering as that is, I think it is important. Because perhaps it has changed some perspectives. Perhaps it has opened up a conversation.
However (yes, there is a however), if you have experienced these feelings, if you have struggled with mental health issues or similar thoughts, or known someone who has, it could be incredibly triggering. And that is where it becomes harmful. Yes, the show warns you. And I really do appreciate that. They put warnings ahead of the episode, they don’t beat around the bush. But I don’t know if these warnings truly prepare you. So please believe me when I say that it is not easy to watch. And it could remind you of thoughts you don’t want to be reminded of.
That particular scene, in my eyes, did not romanticize suicide. But the show itself? By the end, Hannah Baker is seen. Her classmates, many of them at least, feel guilty, and know what they did wrong. They see her, and they understand. This is such a dangerous message to send. Because for some (or perhaps many), part of the allure of suicide is the idea that after they are gone, they will finally be seen. The reality is that we should be discouraging this idea.
I don’t pretend to be an expert. But I’ve gone through these emotions myself. And I know many people who have as well. I don’t know how this show will affect you. But I know how it affected me. It’s graphic nature triggered me, but the ideas that it promoted, even in a subtle manner, really brought up past memories and feelings that I did not expect it to. Luckily, I have an incredible support system. Friends who have stayed up well into the morning talking with me. And if you are reading this, I truly cannot thank you enough.
I don’t claim that the show was the cause of these feelings. These feelings were there beforehand. But the show brought them to the surface again. They triggered them. And that is why I would discourage anyone who has had similar feelings from watching this show. If you have a personal connection to this topic, if you have had suicidal thoughts, if you have self-harmed, or have been sexually assaulted, please be wary. You know yourself better than I know you. But I want to be sure that everyone knows what they are going into. Please, be safe.
I understand that this topic is extremely controversial, and you might have some very strong opinions. This is a safe space, so if you want to share them, feel free. But please, no hate. Let’s keep this a safe space.
If you are suffering right now, I urge you to seek help. Here are a few links that you can visit:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Canadian Crisis Centres: https://thelifelinecanada.ca/help/
International Sexual Assault Resources: https://www.rainn.org/international-sexual-assault-resources