Forbes calls it Netflix’s best show in years. Thirteen Reasons Why portrays the lives of a group of high school students as they experience a friend’s suicide. I’ll be honest…when I first watched the show I was bored but felt obligated to finish it as all my teenage clients are talking about it. However, the farther I got through the series, the more upset I became. By the end I was so angry and confused about what message the writers and producers were trying to send. Extensive detail describes the struggles teenagers face, but they put zero effort into showing kids how to handle these dire situations.
To begin, I want say that this show is incredibly accurate right up to the point of suicide. Not many high schoolers experience actual suicide or commit suicide themselves. However, the rest of the show looks like my experience in high school and many of the teenagers I see in my office. Stories like these are not few and far between.
If you haven’t watched the show yet, I’ll break down the episodes so you understand the idea.
E1 – Hannah Baker has her first kiss (just a kiss) with Justin Foley and says it’s perfect. A rumor is spread around the school that they had sex.
E2 – Hannah, Jessica, and Alex are three best friends. Jessica and Alex drop Hannah and begin dating each other. Hannah loses her friends.
E3 – Justin begins a note of “best features” to pass around the school. Alex is upset that Jessica won’t have sex with him and adds Hannah to the list under “best ass” to make Jessica jealous. Everyone is staring at Hannah’s ass for the rest of the year.
E4 – The school photographer is stalking Hannah outside her house, invading her privacy, and making her paranoid. He catches Hannah kissing her friend Courtney and the photo is shared around the school.
E5 – Courtney immediately drops Hannah as a friend out of fear she’ll be exposed a lesbian and for extra emphasis she starts a rumor that Hannah has a girlfriend and likes to have threesomes with other guys.
E6 – Alex gets in a physical altercation with another student and is hurt badly. Justin pushes Jessica off of him when she keeps trying to hook up but he doesn’t want to. She accuses him of not finding her pretty anymore. Hannah goes on a date with Marcus who gropes her and she has to scream at him to get off. He walks away scoffing, “I thought you were easy”!?
E7 – Under an exorbitant amount of stress from keeping secrets, Clay experiences full hallucinations. Still no-one has told any adults about whats going on. All characters maintain their refusal to share anything with attentive parents or counselors.
E8 – Again, Jessica is trying to hook up with Justin who doesn’t want to. Hannah wrote a very private poem bearing her soul and Ryan published it anonymously behind her back in the school magazine. Not only did the students read it, but the teacher also read it aloud to discuss in class as Hannah sat mortified.
E9 – Jessica threw a party with her parents out of town, blacked out and her boyfriend let his friend Bryce go in the room and rape her while Hannah watched paralyzed in horror through the closet door.
E10 – Sherri offers to drive Hannah home, but isn’t paying attention and crashes into a stop sign. She’s too scared to call 911 because she’s been drinking so she drives away leaving Hannah standing there. By the time Hannah gets to a phone to report it, there’s been an accident. Jeff dies and for a long time his family thinks he was drinking, while he was not. The school counselor offers to talk to the girls when he sees them crying in the hallway, and again offers to help are rejected.
E11 – Hannah and Clay hook up but Hannah’s mind is bombarded with flashbacks of Bryce grabbing her ass, Marcus groping her, and Jessica being raped. She’s overwhelmed and screams at Clay to get away. To quote, she yells “leave me alone! leave me alone, Clay! Just go.” But on the tapes she leaves narrating the story from her own perspective in hindsight, she says that she wanted him to stay. Alluding that if he had stayed she wouldn’t have killed herself. Justin has been lying to Jessica to cover for Bryce until now. He finally tells her Bryce raped her.
E12 – Hannah goes for a walk and ends up at a party at Bryce’s house. Gets in the hot tub, the other friends leave and she’s alone with Bryce. He rapes her too. Clay goes to Bryce’s house and gets him to confess the rape. “Girls play games, she never said no… She made eyes at me… She was practically begging me to fuck her. If that’s rape, every girl in this school wants to be raped.” Clay is beaten to a bloody pulp.
E13 – Hannah goes to the counselor’s office to talk about being raped. He acts surprisingly out of character and instead of being kind, open, and supportive, he bulldozes her with questions. He guesses her answers for her and sort of gets the idea she was raped, but since she didn’t fight back and scream “no, stop” nothing can be done and she should move on. She leaves his office in a storm, wishing he’d chase her down. He doesn’t. She goes home and slits her wrists in a very graphic scene. Her parents find her, she’s dead, and is put in a body bag with no handles that’s just thrown into the ambulance. Justin’s life has been getting worse, he has nowhere to live because his crack addict mom’s boyfriend assaulted him and kicked him out of the house. Jessica hates him for allowing the rape and lying about it. Alex Standall shoots himself in the head.
There’s a few themes we need to discuss in no particular order.
1 – There are two scenes where Jessica is trying to hook up with her boyfriend while he’s clearly not in the mood. He tells her to cut it out and stop multiple times. She doesn’t. She keeps trying until he physically pushes her off. The feeling portrayed is Justin did something wrong. Why did they write these scenes? The largest theme in the show is sexual abuse of women. The writers own biased is obvious in their message that men don’t have the same right to say no as women do.
2 – I wish they had included some depth to Hanna’s background and reasons why she was effected so deeply by some of the events. Your own life is your own responsibility. It’s part of the existential crisis. Noone can live or die for you. In the end we are alone. Hannah is struggling with this and killed herself leaving tapes to get revenge on her friends. It scares me to see how the majority of events that happened to her are not rare and unique. I fear kids relating to her with suicidal thoughts themselves may feel validated in ending their lives with suicide.
3 – The writers had an opportunity to send a message and they miserably failed. I think they were trying to tell kids to be nicer to each other. But unintentionally they told kids it’s someone else’s fault if you kill yourself and someone else’s responsibility to save you. The scene that made me most angry (yelling at the tv angry) was when Clay and Hannah were hooking up and she started getting flashbacks. She was very distraught and yelled at Clay to “get out! Get the **** out!!!.” He was confused and hurt but eventually he obeyed and left. On the tapes Hannah recalled the moment in retrospect describing that she had wanted so badly for him to stay. She even says if he had stayed she might not be dead and the next scene is his fantasy of staying and saving her. This makes me livid. The writers irresponsibly took advantage of developmentally normal teenage narcissism and wrote their god complex right into the script at a pivotal moment. Every kid who’s in an unhealthy relationship because they are scared their partner will self-harm or kill themselves or anything else manipulative was just told they need to stay, sacrifice their own mental health and try harder to save them.
4 – I work with my clients so frequently to ask for what they need. It is no-one else’s responsibility or ability to guess. This show sends the clear message that we should all say the opposite of what we need and it’s our friends’ and parents’ and counselors’ responsibility to guess and meet our needs. — That’s a recipe for depression.
5 – Hannah takes no responsibility for her own life. It’s everyone else’s fault. The kids were mean and abusive, no doubt. But in the end she lived and died on her own. Multiple times the characters try to say “this isn’t my fault. Hannah made the decision, it’s on her.” The other characters dispel that notion and turn it back to “it’s all our faults.” Hannah paid the biggest price by not asking her parents for help especially since her mom was trying to hard to be involved in her life. She even asked about the tapes Hannah was recording. The one person Hannah does ask for help fails miserably. Thanks authors for reinforcing fears that asking for help won’t actually help.
If you or someone you know is depressed or feeling suicidal, the following points are very important. Please keep reading and don’t minimize it or follow any of the subliminal “advice” of 13RW.
1 – If you are feeling suicidal please know this show portrays how to handle it very poorly. If you are young and in school, your friends don’t know how to react or how to help you. This is very serious and most importantly you need to help yourself by seeking others who can help you. First talk to your parents if possible and ask them if you can see a therapist. Tell your school counselor. Call the suicide hotline. You’re in a very serious situation and you have to work to get out of it. Depression is anger turned inwards. Find someone to talk to who will help you express your anger in words, writing, drawing, exercise like boxing, etc. Any healthy ways you can think of to process your anger and use it up. When it’s trapped inside you and you don’t want to acknowledge it, it can turn into depression and you become angry at yourself instead. In my office when patients are feeling suicidal the first thing I say is “tell me everything that makes you angry.” Hannah was very angry, but instead of talking to a safe containing adult and processing it through, she turned the anger on herself.
2 – If you are in a relationship with someone who is suicidal. Call every appropriate adult, get them help, and then break up or take a break. Your partner needs help and it can’t come from you. Especially if you are young, you will sink faster than you recognize and it will effect you as well. It’s not your responsibility to save them or fix them.
Most importantly, know that you might not get the help you need by asking one or two or even three people. Keep trying and keep asking other people. Maybe even a friends parents would be a good resource. Adults are regular humans and sometimes they screw up and don’t handle situations the best way. Don’t give up, just keep looking for someone else to talk to. When Hannah’s counselor screwed up, I wish she had asked other adults for help.
3 – For parents, I recommend asking your kid if they’ve seen the show and what they thought. If they’re interested to talk, use it as a sounding board for an open conversation. Ask if they know anyone who’s experienced any of the abuse portrayed in the show or if they have personally. It’s a good time for a conversation about mental illness as well. Do they know any friends who are feeling depressed or anxious, or extremely stressed out? You can learn a lot by being truly curious and giving your child an opportunity to share with you. Some teens will reject questions about themselves directly, but once removed by talking about their friends and twice removed by talking about a tv show can facilitate a comfortable segway into their own lives.