TRIGGER WARNING AND POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT! I WILL BE ADDRESSING VARIOUS TOPICS FROM SEASONS 1-2 OF THE SHOW.
Also please remember that the following critique if you will is completely my opinion. Nothing is based off of expert statements, it’s simply how I see the television show when using my own experiences and knowledge thus far to analyze it as I have both a passion for and academic path geared towards mental health.
I understand many may have opinions that differ from mine and I am 100% okay with that. I do ask, however, to avoid leaving negative comments publicly. If you feel you really need to talk to me about this post, contact me via email or DM on Twitter/Instagram. Whether or not I respond depends on the way you approach me.
Now, without further ado, my reasons that lead me to believe the Netlifx original Drama ’13 Reasons Why’ is an accurate and appropriate portrayal of modern day mental health/bullying problems.
1.) There are both discretion warnings and clips providing potential help for those who are or know someone else who needs professional aid or some other service.
There’s no doubt that a large amount of the content within the show can be seen as uncomfortable to look at, but, just like wildlife series or possibly war documentaries, warnings are provided to the viewer at the beginning of the program so they can decide whether or not to continue watching. Not only this, but the producers mention how some scenes could act as possible triggers for those who’ve experienced similar trauma or have other mental health concerns and suggest they only continue watching safely with a trusted friend/loved one. Some may think that just doing this isn’t enough; but in the industry, warnings/labels are all CD, television show, and other media producers can do to deter potential negative outcomes for certain audience members exposed to their media.
Similarly, as the show is coming to an end, hotlines and other forms of support are once again provided for the viewer. It’s not like the producers of the series are just simply showing mental health in a negative aspect and the potential power it can hold over even a group of people. The intended overall message, I believe, is that what we do and say matters a whole lot more than we think it does. Even if it doesn’t effect our own life in some significant way, doesn’t mean it impact another.
This whole idea is better in so many ways to have circling people’s TV screens than the majority of the entertainment that is also out there. Audiences were quick to attack the intensity at which both season one and two held, but there’s tons of other media out there that lack in a meaningful and relevant messages. Horror movies for example, are still released but alongside content ratings. In reality, however, this doesn’t stop kids from watching them.
Overall, the show addresses mental health issues from a serious point of view. Providing help, portraying multiple types of mental problems that are faced more commonly than the public tends to think. The show was intended to end the stigma behind mental health care and show how real, detrimental, and fast emotional/mental stress can absorb various types of people. It’s, in my opinion, one of the few shows that is so directed at helping the viewers and showing them they’re not alone.
2.) The intense scenarios they touch upon only make people uncomfortable because they’re recognized as taboo by society. The show is making effort to highlight these events and the importance of acknowledging them instead of burying them in shame.
While not everybody may want to talk about sexual assault, suicide, depression, or bullying the truth is: we have to. People who deal with these topics and the like are sometimes forced to go through the struggle alone out of fear of what others will think/say/do based off of past experiences. This is not humane. We owe more to each other as the human race with such great emotional intelligence.
To just let suicide or bullying in teens carry on is negligent. I’m not saying that mental health shares no part of the limelight of public interest. This is in no way true since employers, schools, and the health field have all become more open over the years to the significance of mental health; yet, this did little to change/eliminate the stigmas stuck to the concept.
Referring back, once again, to the aspect of the warnings before/after each episode it’s obvious that the cast and crew are trying to bring awareness to and educate those scared/unsure about the challenges and risks of mental health issues left unattended to. I don’t see this as encouraging, or failing to accurately capture a wide variety of mental health struggles. The Netlfix series is more of a look into a part of the everyday psychological world that has been avoided in public conversation. It’s only furthering along the acceptance of mental health as a real field to be concerned about and aware of.
3.) These situations aren’t exaggerated or irrelevant.
Especially with the amount of attention more recently placed on sexual assaults within the show biz industry, I thought that the views towards such crimes would change. So far, I haven’t seen that. There still seems to be a divide between people who seek justice for such cases and those who turn to victim blaming or other opposing tactics. This is directly demonstrated in the verdict given after character Bryce Walker is tried for rape.
The teenager only receives 3 months of probation after a failed testimony by his girlfriend and Hannah Baker’s mother. I read somewhere that the writers made this so in order to truly reflect the realness of modern day rape culture. Justice is not fairly distributed to those faced with charges of rape/sexual assault and often the attention and pressure is more centered around the victim.
This then directly leads to the low amount of assaults that are reported compared to the amount that actually happen. I found the scene in one of the last few episodes of season 2 where different women from the show come forth in a court room, describing the time(s) they were themselves assaulted. This wasn’t really a necessary part for the development of the actual plot, but an opportunity the producers took to further outline the truth behind rape.
I personally know at least eight people (not just women) that have been raped or forced into some other type of assault. Not one of them pursued justice, but rather hid with pain and guilt much like character Jessica Davis. That is why this aspect of the show is so important. We need to educate audiences on the idea of getting professional help or recognizing concerning signs within themselves or other that could escalate if ignored. Until the victims feel comfortable enough to come forward, statistics won’t reflect the true rates of such traumatizing experiences.
Rape wasn’t the only thing I saw as necessary to show. The effects of bullying, whether over or covert, are so important. Through the exchanges between characters like Hannah and Zach or Hannah and Justin, it’s so clear how much other people’s own issues such as insecurities/fear of humiliation or wanting to be cool and approaching it in the wrong way can change more than just one person’s life. Hannah, directly impacted by the words that came from places of low self worth and ego in both Justin and Zach, managed to internalize these events so much that they added immensely to her already overwhelming stress load.
While thinking about things like “be nice to others”, or “treat people how you want to be treated” may bring one back to feeling like a little kid learning to socialize, they’re still important as we move through adolescents and adulthood. By just being nice to others, you are ensuring that you are not part of whatever internal turmoil they are dealing with. No, you can’t be nice to everyone all of the time, but paying more attention to your options when reacting to or initiating conversation can positively affect the outcome.
I see a perfect portrayal of this when Clay decides to go outside and coax Tyler out of entering the school dance with a weapon. Instead of freaking out, hiding, attacking Tyler, Clay chose to be his friend. Kinds words, a calm voice, and assurance managed to get Tyler to rethink his plan which ends up saving so many lives. Being nice or even just considerate to someone can really move them in a way larger than you can imagine since we can never accurately know what someone else is feeling/thinking. Always recognize everything deals with things differently, and those ‘things’ can vary in many ways.
There are so many aspects of the series that I have thoughts on about why it’s important, but I just wanted to share my general opinion. Personally, the series hits home as I experienced bullying, assault, depression, and other unpleasantness in middle-high school. I believe some who hold negative feelings towards the show may be lacking in ways to relate, but they could also be the exact opposite of the person who should watch a show like 13 Reasons Why.
No, I didn’t go and watch critique or review videos on the series. Yes, I am aware they directly ignored the advisory of a psychologist in some of their scene selection. That aside, I think it is a great series. It made me feel accepted, and I hope it did so for many others. We, as a race, have definitely made progress on the mental health track and I see this as continuing. Even if attempts to further progress such as this media depiction generate more opposing than supporting comments, it is enough that the ideas are at least being circulated. Change starts with conversation, something 13 Reasons Why depicts in the most blunt, sincere way.