• Does “13 Reasons Why” Really Promote Mental Health Awareness?

    by Caroline Ryther
    on Jul 13th, 2018

For those who aren’t keeping up with the latest Netflix shows, “13 Reasons Why” is a teen television drama (based on the same-titled novel by Jay Asher) which follows the story of 17-year-old Clay Jensen, who receives a box of cassette tapes from his friend Hannah Baker, recorded before she committed suicide.

Through those tapes, Clay learns of 13 reasons why Hannah committed suicide in the first place. The series goes on to reveal that Hannah was betrayed by her best friends, stalked, molested, and even raped, and it also shows the impact her death had on her friends, family, and school peers.

The show quickly became incredibly popular in the US, and it has been praised for the way it depicts reality, helps people learn more about suicide, and promotes mental health awareness. However, there are those who believe that the show does nothing else but glamorize depression and suicide, while mental health experts have expressed their concern that this portrayal of suicide may lead to an increase in teenagers killing themselves.‍

The Show Says Little About Suicide Prevention

In the days following the debut of the show, research (Internet searches for suicide following the release of 13 Reasons Why by Ayers et al) showed that there was a major increase in searches about suicide—26% of those searches used the phrase “how to commit suicide”.

A number of pediatricians also reported that a lot of teenagers who came through their door actually had their own 13 reasons why they wanted to kill themselves and that there were those who identified themselves with the deceased character from the show. Some parents even said that they were worried the show had a negative effect of their children’s mental health, and with such a high depression and suicide rate among adolescents, can we really claim that their concern isn’t justified?

According to Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents between ages 15 and 24, and the third leading cause of death in children aged 10 to 14. And while “13 Reasons Why” does tell a story about a young teen's suicide, it does very little to teach its viewers about mental illness and suicide prevention.

The main problem seems to be that the show presented suicide as the only option for the deceased character, and didn't do a lot to encourage people who are dealing with depression or having suicidal thoughts to actually look for help.

In “13 Reasons Why”, Hannah tried talking to her school counselor about everything happening to her, but wasn’t taken seriously (due to the counselor’s incompetence), which had mental health experts worried about young people with a similar problem shying away from seeking help.

In addition to all of this, the show seems to imply that "others" were completely responsible for Hannah's suicide. And while it’s true that a lot of characters need to be held accountable for they’d done, “13 Reasons Why” has its viewers believing that the only reason Hannah decided to commit suicide was because of someone else when, in fact, her death was caused by mental illness.

Not for People Struggling with Mental Health Issues

The fact remains that “13 Reasons Why” contains very graphic depictions of depression, self-harm, physical violence, and suicide that can be very upsetting to watch, especially for people who have struggled or are struggling with depression and other mental health issues.

Although episodes do feature warnings telling viewers about the sensitive content of the show (more elaborate since Season 2), mental health experts recommend that those going through mental health issues should avoid “13 Reasons Why” altogether, because of the show’s possibility to trigger disturbing thoughts and emotions.

If you know someone who has depression or has thought about committing suicide, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Best and his team, and schedule a consultation right away. Acting immediately could play a huge role in saving the life of your loved one.

Schedule a consultation:

Phone: 847-306-8938

Email: pm@mind.md

Author Caroline Ryther

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