Teen suicide is not a new topic. The subject matter has thrived in pop culture based media including the Tony-nominated Dear Evan Hansen and the cult-favorite film The Virgin Suicides. The majority of all popular opinions regarding the favoritism or absolute hatred toward 13 Reasons Why is centered on the hard-to-forget suicide scene. The protagonist, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), took a seat in her bathroom, filled her tub with water, and as it over owed slit her wrists and bled out. The graphic scene pressed Netflix to setting updated trigger warnings due to spine-tingling and vivid images depicting one of the worst tragedies imaginable: suicide.
Studies continue to prove that mass media is one of the public’s primary sources of information about disorders such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Depression. Considering such facts, A Health News Report from US and World News sought out the professional opinion of Stephen Hinshaw, a professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley who stated that the, “Majority of the misrepresentation concerning mental illness influences viewers that individuals who suffer with it as ‘them from the rest of us’ furthering the growth stereotypes that they are incompetent, dangerous, and slovenly undeserving.”
In short, the series begins a few weeks after Hannah’s suicide. Tony (Christian Navarro), a socially awkward classmate, helps distribute thirteen tapes labeled with the names of additional classmates who contributed to traumatic events that in uenced Hannah’s decision to commit suicide. Clay (Dylan Minnette), an even more socially awkward classmate, and former crush of Hannah’s serves as the show’s avenging angel who is determined to confront others who have in uenced the traumatic events in hope that the truth will set them free.
Although it may not be popular opinion, I believe 13 Reasons Why is a major stride regarding positive mental health representation. Neglecting responsibility is a common theme among most of the opposing arguments to the series. One of the largest problems regarding the representaiton of mental health, or lack thereof, is that the association with psychological problems are diminished or glossed over. This not only strengthens stereotypes, but it makes room for stereotypes to be recreated in media.
If the goal is to meet a sociological balance that creates images of mental health as “normal” instead of perpetuating the associated ideology of “us and them” as mentioned by Professor Hinshaw, then why shouldn’t the series have been “repetitive” or imply that “one thing” can lead to suicide? The reality is, and what I think 13 Reasons Why depicts so cleverly, that things don’t have to be dramatically horrible to affect a person deep enough to give them the idea that suicide is an option. Considering that life isn’t perfect, in regards to depicting a story that has the potential to contain similarities to individuals who contemplate suicide, I would consider an imbalance of imperfection to be absolutely perfect.
Bullying is a serious problem, rape is a serious problem, and there is a void when it comes to depicting teens in a manner that represents the actualities of bullying and rape as horrible as they are. The question must then be proposed, would the production of media containing raw reflections of both decrease them from happening?