By Christiana Paradis

Content note: mental health, suicide, sexual violence

I, like the rest of the world, just finished binge watching 13 Reasons Why, a new series on Netflix. I must preface that I was hesitant to watch this show. I had read the book two years prior and upon finishing felt woefully uncomfortable. I felt that it glamorized suicide and gave students who were struggling the perspective that it was the ultimate way out and to get revenge at the same time. As more information about the show swirled I decided I needed to give it a chance before writing it off completely. Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by the Netflix adaptation. Though there were a few things that still drew some concerns for me, predominately I felt the series adaptation got several things right.

13 reactions to 13 Reasons Why:

13) Glamorization of suicide. Similar to the book there were several times that I felt the book and series adaptation justified Hannah’s decision to commit suicide. Ultimately someone’s decision to end their life is their decision and it is a very complicated decision that is often affected by a person’s mental health, lived experiences, coping skills and support system. The one thing I do not want anyone taking away is that suicide is an appropriate way to solve problems or feel vindicated for things that have happened to them. There are many different options and help is always available.

12) Know yourself. If this topic is difficult for you to discuss or watch, then don’t do it. The show has quickly become current pop culture phenomena, that being said if the content is triggering you have the right to stop watching it or avoid watching it altogether and you have the right to talk to someone about it.

11) Bystander effect. The bystander effect continues to be a huge problem in our society. Earlier this week I was discussing bullying at a local high school. Every student could articulate examples and ways in which they could get involved to stop it; however, that’s where the buck stops. People’s knowledge about what to do and why, but never any actual action when it becomes necessary. When I asked students if you know what you’re supposed to do and you know it will make the situation better -why don’t you? The answers were telling “I might become a target,” “you can’t snitch,” “it’s my friend.” The peer effect and the threat of being considered an “outsider” for standing up against ill treatment keeps many students from standing up and speaking out, despite knowing that it is the right thing to do and ultimately could get them in trouble if they don’t. 13 Reasons Why articulated the strength of peer culture, the bystander effect, and the fear of being ridiculed for doing what you know is right.

10) Family; family members can play a crucial role in providing support to someone who is struggling. Several times Hannah alluded to wishing she could talk to her parents; however, it’s never entirely clear why she felt she couldn’t talk to her parents. Though it was evident money was tight and this pre-occupied her parents, it was also evident how much they loved their daughter. I like that the Netflix series incorporated a larger story line into the series adaptation. I think it was a powerful step in helping viewers realize the damage that suicide can have on the close friends and family members left behind. Hannah’s parents’ grief is difficult to watch at times, but added a unique element that wasn’t as prevalent in the book. There is damage to those left behind.

9) Support; we all have varying levels of support and at times we do not realize it. I call on everyone to think of one person that you have in your life that you can rely on and talk to. It doesn’t have to be a teacher, counselor, or parent, but there should be someone. It could be a friend, an older brother or sister, a friend that is close or far away. Know who your support system is and know how best to reach them when needed.

8) Sexual Assault is more prevalent than we imagine. I’ve worked in the field of domestic and sexual violence for five years and despite doing thousands of education programs in that time, people tend to challenge how often sexual assault happens in our society. Sexual assault is an underlying theme throughout the series and we see several depictions of it, initiated by different people at different times. Hannah herself is a victim of sexual violence several times over within the series. If there is one thing this series got right above all else it was the frequency in which sexual assault occurs in our society and the ways in which victims are treated in the aftermath. The counselor’s response to Hannah is not an uncommon response that victims hear and see everyday, typically not by counselors but by people of varying occupations and it has to stop. #NoMore

7) Lack of responsibility on the part of the perpetrator(s). Similar to most SA situations, it was clear that the sexual assault assailants throughout the film very rarely felt remorse for their behaviors when they happened. It was only after Hannah’s tapes are released that they start to question their decisions and actions and for some they still cannot rise to the place of taking responsibility. Lack of recognition and accountability are areas that largely allow for sexual assault to persist and the biggest hurdle to overcoming complacent behavior.

6) Techonology has changed everything. At several points throughout the series it became apparent the ways in which technology have added new components to bullying and sexual harassment. A photo of Hannah goes viral throughout school and is ultimately used to shame and bully her. This commonplace in the average high school. Students can articulate how bullying occurs via technology but also the ways in which sexual harassment and technology have become integrated. Technology is drastically changing the ways we function with one another and this series cast a light on the many influences that technology has on students and their relationships.

5) We can do better by speaking up. It’s not easy. We know the peer effect is strong, that being said we also know that nothing will stop if we don’t stand up and speak out for our peers and for ourselves. If we stand up and speak out just for one person it can make all the difference in the world.

4) We can do better by listening to those who matter most. Stop being afraid to listen to those who love and care about you. Hannah articulates several times in the series that several people affected her decision to commit suicide. She ultimately felt like no one cared; that being said Clay cared and ultimately blamed himself for Hannah’s death because he didn’t articulate his feelings enough. We need to listen to those who care most and know how to reach out to them when needed.

3) We can do better by listening. More important that talking is listening. We need to listen to the stories of our friends, classmates, parents, and teachers. We need to let others know that what their saying matters. We should actively listen and engage with their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. 

2) We can do better by integrating our services. Local domestic and sexual violence services are working to establish memorandum of understandings with local high schools to provide in person, scheduled, counseling for students who have indicated that they have been affected by domestic and sexual violence. Often we get dismissed or told it is not a necessary service. Services are needed and they need to be provided by experienced counselors. The most prepared individuals to discuss sexual and domestic violence are sexual and domestic violence advocates. School districts need to stop shutting out non-profit agency’s in their areas of expertise providing victim-based services. If there had been such a program at Hannah’s school the ending may have been drastically different.

1) We can do better by having conversations. The biggest reason I ultimately decided to watch 13R is because of the conversations it is starting. For the first time, I can go into a classroom of high school students and they want to talk about mental health, suicide, and sexual assault. They know what it looks like, they know it’s wrong, and they want to talk about it. They want to know their options, they want to talk about their own diagnoses and how that has affected their lives. Though there are several things that this series may not have gotten perfect, the one thing that it has done is sparked serious conversation among students about topics that have long been stigimitized and silenced. Students will no longer be silent because deep down in all of us, we resonate with feelings Hannah had, we resonate with her frustration of being ignored, harassed and bullied, we resonate with the many reasons we’ve experience that have made us question our mortality. We need to talk to friends, family, to each other, we need to know we’re not alone. There are millions of Hannah Bakers in the world. We all can do better. We all can do more. We all have the power to end up being someone’s I13R why they stayed.

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