’13 Reasons Why’ came to my attention via social media. Twitter seemed full of it and that intrigued me because there was a clear divide of opinions. So it became my next Netflix watch and now that I have finished it, I also feel very torn. I haven’t fully digested it all and taken time to sit and think about how it’s made me feel hence why I am just sitting and typing and hoping that by writing about it, I will get rid of the feeling of unease it has left me with.
The premiss of the show is that a high school girl named Hannah Baker commits suicide but before doing so, she leaves tapes explaining the reasons why she has done so. We are told the story through the character of Clay who struggles with the idea of listening to the tapes and it takes him an age to get through them because he feels so uncomfortable about Hannah’s story as it unfolds and hampers his coming to terms with her death. This is something I felt I had in common with Clay – it wasn’t a series I felt I wanted to binge because each episode revealed a reason why this 17-year-old killed herself and that didn’t sit well with me. I needed to digest each episode and the issues it brought to the forefront.
Suicide is something I don’t have any experience of. Yes, dark thoughts have been a real issue for me of late but not to that extent. Yes, I’m taking anti depressants but not for the reason of suicide. Yet watching this programme, it portrays just how easily impressionable, vulnerable teens can be led to that state of mind where there seems like no way out. There’s nowhere left to turn, the feeling of emptiness is overwhelming to the point of no return. The show, in my opinion, is very well acted. It’s sewn together faultlessly to show the web of teenage life and how simple acts can lead onto bigger issues. We have to take care of the words that leave our mouths because we don’t know what other people are going through. When I was little the rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” were relayed a few times but actually, that is so far from the truth. We don’t know what struggles people have or what their emotional state is. Simple, harmful, throw away words that leave our mouths in a matter of seconds can stick to the recipient for hours, days, months…years even and make a chink in their armour that is irreparable.
Every year as a teacher I have done a simple PSHE activity about how words can hurt each other and how we can’t take them back. The children start in small groups with a paper plate, a tube of toothpaste and some cocktail sticks. They love the activity – getting to squeeze out every last drop on the toothpaste onto the plate. And then when I ask them to replace ALL of the paste back into the tubes using only the cocktail sticks, it’s fun to watch their little faces, full of concentration and determination which soon turn into frustration and sadness when they realise they can’t do it. This is when I get them to imagine the tube of toothpaste is their mouth and the squeezing out of the paste are their words. The reality of it is we can’t get that toothpaste back in the tube, just like we cannot take back and erase the words we speak, once they are out the damage is done. A simple yet effective activity that I love and will always use.
One of the reasons I wasn’t sure about the show was because a massive part of me agrees with some of the twitter comments about how this programme could be a trigger for those who are dealing with suicidal thoughts and who have dealt with/are dealing with abuse. ‘Stranger Things’ actress Shannon Purser tweeted: “I would advise against watching 13 Reasons Why if you currently struggle with suicidal thoughts or self harm/have undergone sexual assault. There are some very graphic scenes in there that could easily trigger painful memories and feelings. Please protect yourselves.” And I wholeheartedly agree.
But this doesn’t mean others shouldn’t watch. The shows main message for me is how many people miss Hannah. How much people around her care for her and love her, value her and miss her. It shows what she is now not a part of and will never be able to be again. It gives the message that if you are in this dark place to stop and look around, really look around and look for the goodness in your life – people, things, experiences and put your reason for living into them. Find reasons to live not reasons not to. Although I also know this is much much easier said than done.
It highlights the fact that we need to speak up about issues of mental health and abuse – it tackles rape and suicide very graphically. This is another part I still struggle with, probably because they are the scenes that stay with you because they are so graphic. I don’t know whether that is absolutely necessary because both issues are dealt with so well through the script but I see why they were included. It’s the rawness, the total open honesty of the show that hasn’t been done before to my knowledge – it tackles these issues in full view for us to see. So yes it is horrific, uncomfortable, upsetting viewing but it is needed in order to tell Hannah’s full story, for us to understand what she went through and to understand what led her to her ultimate death. And through that we can see how the people around her are led to realise how they played a part in it all – demonstrating again how delicate and thoughtful we should be to our friends, colleagues, acquaintances…people we pass on the street. The shows writer has responded to criticism about these scenes and why they were included and when I read them I understood the importance of their inclusion:
“It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. In AA, they call it playing the tape: encouraging alcoholics to really think through in detail the exact sequence of events that will occur after relapse. It’s the same thing with suicide. To play the tape through is to see the ultimate reality that suicide is not a relief at all – it’s a screaming, agonising, horror. We wanted to tell that story truthfully. And as difficult as it is to watch, it should be difficult to watch. If we make it easy to watch, then we’re selling goods that we didn’t want to sell.”
It’s okay to not be okay, but don’t be not okay alone. Friends and family are there through good, bad and ugly and to support and help you. And if you don’t feel you have friends or family that can do that, there are helplines and organisations who are. Suicide should never be the only option left for any human being.
Samaritans: 116 123
Papyrus (supporting teens and young adults with suicidal thoughts): 0800 068 4141
Rape crisis: 0800 802 9999
Victim support: 0808 168 9111
I’m not going to recommend this show, not because I don’t think people should watch it, I do. But it’s a show people need to decide whether to watch or not on their own. It is an 18 certificate for a reason.
Sorry for the heaviness of this blog but the show just brought up a lot of thoughts about issues I hadn’t ever really truly considered before and I wanted to get it out there because they shouldn’t be taboo subjects, they need to be talked about so people don’t feel so alone. If anything, the show has brought these issues to the forefront, and whether you agree with it or not, people are talking about it and that equals awareness and that can never be a bad thing.
This has been a tough blog for me to write because I know there will be some people who have watched the show/have opinions on it who will agree with my thoughts but there will be some who really oppose them – let’s just remember the premise of the show here and not leave any nasty comments – everyone is entitled to an opinion and discussions are welcomed but only if they are kept nice and peoples own thoughts aren’t judged.