“There are 13 sides to every story,” Hannah Baker, the star of the Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why, says in the first episode. This series, which debuted in March of 2017, portrays Hannah Baker’s point of view, or as one of the characters eloquently puts it, “Her truth.” This is a story of someone broken down by a series of events in her life that compel her to feel hopeless, helpless, and wishing for death.
This was her truth. It was told from her vantage point and while many people may not agree with how she responded to the crises that unfolded in her life, it was her choice…or was it?
Of course, Hannah Baker is just a character in a TV show, but the show makes people question how others handle situations differently. For instance, a specific event, such as an abuse, may bring one person to the brink of suicide, while another person may be able to “shrug it off” and put it behind them. Both reactions can be considered normal, but they are completely different responses to a similar incident.
Hannah tells her story exactly as she saw it, however that doesn’t mean the way she views the world is the way it was. It is her perspective and each and every one of us sees things from a different viewpoint. And Hannah is only 17, she doesn’t have a lot of life experiences to draw from to let her know that the situation she is in right now won’t last forever, that the choices she makes don’t have to define who she is, and that things can get better.
Everyone who viewed this series has their own conflicting opinions on how things were handled.
Were the tapes seen as vindictive or just an explanation?
Is this really how things are at most high schools or did they over exaggerate?
Should they have shown the suicide scene or left it to the imagination?
Did Hannah have a mental illness or not?
Did Hannah make a “choice” to end her life or was it inevitable?
These are questions that can have multiple answers or maybe no answers at all.
The mental health community have raised concerns that mental illness was not discussed in the series. This could have been an opportunity for an open, honest conversation about mental health issues.
However, this was a show based on a young woman who takes her own life. The writers did not give a great deal of opportunity for anyone to help Hannah or talk about mental health, except possibly the incompetent school counselor, because it would have steered the topic away from the tragic ending. And Hannah was portrayed as not being particularly skilled at verbalizing how she felt, mostly because she was only 17 and partly because when she did speak out she was often pushed away or made to feel worse.
In my opinion, there was not enough information given to make an informed decision about the state of Hannah’s mental health. She possibly showed signs of depression. She certainly showed signs of PTSD.
More than 90% of people who die by suicide have been diagnosed with a mental illness. But we can’t make a diagnosis based on the limited view of Hannah’s emotional state. Did she or didn’t she have a mental illness? We will never know.
Could Hannah have reached out to her parents? Absolutely.
Could she have reached out to another adult that she trusted? Absolutely.
Is there a lesson to be learned from this series? Absolutely.
As a parent I think everyone who raises children should watch these thirteen episodes. They should watch the companion piece, “Beyond the Reasons,” which gives insight into why the directors and producers did what they did. It also portrays professionals explaining how to educate youth on sexual consent and offering information on suicide and depression. This controversial series should not be ignored. In this case ignorance is not bliss. These types of situations are going on in our schools on a daily basis. We must educate ourselves and our children, so that they don’t become one of the statistics.
13 Reasons Why has raised awareness. It has spurred people, schools, and communities to discuss bullying, sexual assault, suicide, and mental illness. It has made a difference, because people are talking. They are debating, they are researching, and they are discussing their reasons why not.
Every one of us can strive to be that person that someone reaches out to. That sees, listens, and acknowledges. It’s not a difficult thing to do, it just takes compassion, empathy, and a big heaping of validation.