A Commentary on 13 Reasons Why

This article contains discussions of suicide and sexual assault.

Ever since 2017 when the first season of the hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why aired there has been controversy over whether the show is harmful.

The show takes on issues that many teens and adults face which is something that rarely happens in media. Themes such as sexual assault, mental health issues, suicide and self-harm are portrayed. While some may find this incredibly sad, others find it helpful seeing as they can relate to the characters and their experiences. 

The show starts with a warning, a message from the actors about content and potentially triggering topics. Before the end credits of each episode the producers also provide resources for sexual assault recovery and suicide hotlines.

Despite the effort made to provide resources, writers missed opportunities to educate about warning signs. Before Hannah’s suicide, there was hardly any talk about what she, the main character, was thinking, planning or feeling leading up to her death. All of her problems were later revealed and discussed after her death occurred. In one instance Hannah talked to her counselor, mentioned suicide and was turned away. This is shown to be an issue but it is never further discussed as such.

The current generation heavily relies on TV and media. There is concern that viewers will relate the idea of suicide to the show and the way producers portrayed suicide as glamourous and less urgent of an issue. This creates problems as struggling teens and adults could look to the show for help and get the wrong idea.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, after the show debuted, there was a 28.9% increase in suicide among U.S. youth ages 10-17. Young people are vulnerable to the media that they are exposed to. Sometimes including self-help hotlines is just not enough and this only demonstrates how carefully these sensitive topics need to be handled.

Even though the producers severely mishandled the topic, 13 Reasons Why could be used as an outlet for anyone struggling. While creators picked extreme scenarios, they show how the characters grew from their experiences and how things do, in fact, get better.

Parents can view the show as a look into teenagers’ real lives. The lives they hide from parents, friends and family. It can be a great opportunity for families to discuss important issues and how to deal with them. 13 Reasons Why demonstrates good intentions by shining light on important issues. Starting discussions on mental health, the show showed there is not enough light in the dark corners everyone faces. Sexual assault, suicide, depression and anxiety need to be talked about more often and openly to make sure everyone is comfortable and healthy.