WARNING: Depictions of suicide and rape
I finally finished 13 Reasons Why last night, weeks after what seems like half the teenage population of the internet did. The Netflix series was majorly hyped from the beginning -- a gripping tale of a 17-year-old, Hannah, who has taken her own life, explaining the reasons behind her suicide through a series of tapes from beyond the grave.
When I began to watch the series, I wasn't sure if I should persevere, as it seemed soooo teenage, and although I love One Direction as much as [read: more than] the next person, 26 seemed a bit too old for this high school drama.
However, I became hooked. The escalating trauma of Hannah's life was an eye-opening insight into the lives of teens in the age of social media. The budding romance between Clay and Hannah was dragged out to keep me wanting more. And, although the exploration of rape culture was harrowing, it was well done and shone a light on the violations girls face all too often.
But in episode 13, my feelings towards 13 Reasons Why changed.
The final episode of the series shows Hannah's suicide. This isn't a spoiler, because we know she's dead from the first episode, but either way, this isn't a scene that should be sprung on anyone without warning. In fact, there was a warning at the beginning of the episode, telling viewers that scenes of violence and suicide lay ahead. But that wasn't enough to prepare me for the scene.
Hannah takes her own life by cutting her wrists in a bathtub. Telling us that would have sufficed. Clay is narrating the scene, we hear that she put on old clothes, ran a bath, and cut her wrists with razor blades we saw her take from her parents' pharmacy.
13 Reasons Why went further than explaining what Hannah did. They filmed the teenager getting into the bath, cutting into her wrists, shouting out in pain, and breathing heavily as she bled to death in the bathtub.
I knew the scene was coming. But the graphic nature of Hannah's death was too much to bear. I burst into tears during it, and cried about it when I went to bed. I couldn't stop seeing it. It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up. And I don't think Netflix should have included it in the show.
I do understand why the scene was included. The producers have spoken about wanting to show the pain and suffering of suicide, to show that it's not romantic, to show the horror of it. But I don't think that warrants triggering people.
I know people who have done what Hannah did to themselves. Luckily they have survived. But when I saw her do that, I saw friends' faces. And no warning would have prepared me for that.
Then there's the issue of showing a suicide in terms of the media. Media guidelines state that coverage of suicide should not go into detail on the methods used by the deceased. For example, you can say they took an overdose, but not say what pills and how many were taken. This is to prevent copycat suicides, to prevent a newspaper or TV show giving vulnerable people instructions on how to kill themselves.
13 Reasons Why could have said Hannah cut her wrists. They didn't need to show how she did it. This could possibly show people how to do so -- simply by logging into Netflix.
And despite the show being given a 18+ rating by Netflix, the series is directed at teens -- who will be the most vulnerable to the imagery.
The show may get people talking about suicide, but I don't know who it will help. I don't think anyone considering suicide would find this scene helpful, nor anyone who has been affected by suicide.
Several mental health organisations have spoken out about the portrayal of suicide in the show, including Australian organisation Headspace, which fears that the scene may distress viewers.
It's not just the suicide scene that could trigger viewers. There are two graphic and disturbing rape scenes in the show. While it is good to explore rape culture in mainstream TV (I would argue that the show is more about rape culture rather than mental health), there is a way to handle it without sensationalising it and using it for shock value.
We need to talk about mental health. We need to talk about suicide. We need to make sure teenagers talk about these things. But I don't think 13 Reasons Why is the way to do it. Suicide is not entertainment, and should not be treated as a tool for drama.
If you need help or are affected by any of the issues in 13 Reasons Why, here are some useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service is open 9:30 - 4pm Monday - Friday - 0300 5000 927. They have over 100 factsheets with easy to understand information on a variety of issues related to mental health
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call 0800 58 58 58 or visit thecalmzone.net
- The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41
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