I just finished the show Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix. First let me tell you there are spoilers included in this post, so you’ve been warned.
I read some articles discussing the good and bad points of it, but I wanted to give some additional feedback about the show from my experience and also share my personal experiences with mental illness, bullying, sexual assault and suicide.
Hannah Baker from “Thirteen Reasons Why” as played by Katherine Langford
Let me begin by saying that yes, some of what Hannah Baker experienced can be attributed to “normal high school experiences”. Yes, feeling outcast as the new girl, feeling alone sometimes, gaining and losing friendships, etc. are all normal. But there are other parts of Hannah’s story that are far from normal.
Overall I felt that the show was more focused on the trauma Hannah experiences than a mental health condition or a clinical definition of depression. Given all the trauma Hannah experiences during a short amount of time, it’s a normal thing to feel sad, depressed and low. Never once does the show reveal that Hannah is affected by any kind of mental health diagnosis or undiagnosed illness. No one ever says anything about mental health at all other than the scene where Clay’s mother suggests he try medication. Therefore, the hopelessness and loneliness that Hannah experiences, in my opinion, is not a byproduct of a mental health condition; it’s a reaction to trauma. She’s bullied, sexually assaulted and abandoned. She’s experiencing everything from guilt and shame, to flashbacks and triggering and the people she does turn to for help don’t recognize the signs or do nothing and her normal coping skills aren’t working. Maybe they just didn’t ask the right questions.
Hannah Baker experienced trauma.
It’s not her fault. She’s a victim in all of her trauma. To blame Hannah for what led to her suicide is ignorant. In the long run, Hannah did have other choices, but the choice she decided was best for her was taking her own life. Yes, it’s always sad when a preventable tragedy like this happens, and it’s a senseless loss of life. I’m not making judgments on Hannah for this choice, nor am I saying “she shouldn’t have done it”. I’m only saying that it was Hannah that made that choice, and it was hers to make.
I don’t get to decide what is best for Hannah’s life, only Hannah does.
While watching the show I identified with Hannah. I know what it’s like to feel alone, bullied, assaulted and hopeless. I know what it feels like to experience trauma and the lasting effects of trauma. I know what it feels like to think the only option is suicide. Even as I watched and knew what would happen eventually, I found myself screaming at the TV at the people who could have helped Hannah. I yelled at them about what else they could have done or resources she could have accessed. As I was sobbing and watching helplessly as Hannah slit her wrists, in what was the most heart wrenching scene of the show, I thought about all the ways her story had gone sideways, and all the ways it could have gone differently. I was thinking about why she felt suicide was an option for her, and why it isn’t an option for me.
I’ve been where Hannah Baker was. I’ve reached out to people to get help only to have them tell me to “move on” or “cheer up”. I’ve felt like I wanted to disappear, like my life was too hard. I’ve had people say I was a “drama queen,” a “slut,” and that I was making things up or making them “all about me”. Even this blog will be misconstrued by some as all about me. (It is, but it’s also about trauma reactions and mental health and it’s my blog.)
I’ve sat with that razor blade at my wrist willing myself to cut. I’ve had two failed suicide attempts. I’ve used cutting as a form of coping. I’ve had many more times when I contemplated suicide or even had a plan but didn’t carry it out. I’ve wished that I didn’t exist or wished I could disappear. And still I say that suicide is not an option for me.
Suicide isn’t the end of my pain, it’s the transference of my pain to those I care about.
Think about it for a minute.
I love those who are in my life. I want the very best for them. I have family, friends and coworkers who care about me as well. If I were to take my own life, they would be the ones to feel the fallout just as the friends and family of Hannah Baker did. They would be left with the questions, the guilt, the shame and sorrow of what I had done. They would stay up late at night, unable to sleep because they were thinking about something they could have done differently to help me or stop me. They would cry at my funeral and every time afterwards when my name came up or they were reminded of me. They would be embarrassed when someone talked about the stigma of suicide and what it meant about me as a person, when they implied that I was selfish, weak, or unable to cope or when they blamed my bipolar.
Suicide isn’t an option for me because I can’t bear the thought of leaving them my pain. I want to leave a legacy of my accomplishments, my victories, my happy memories. I want people to cry because they miss me, and because it’s a shame that I am no longer alive, but know that I had a good life. I want people to talk about how I tried to dispel the stigma of mental illness and was open and honest about my symptoms and mental health. I want people to know that I lived with passion, I loved as much as I could, I lived my life to the best of my abilities regardless of my bipolar and the challenges it posed.
I want people to know that there’s no shame in asking for help, and if you can’t ask on your own, have someone help you or let someone know you need help. They don’t have to hide it. Just tell them “I need help” or “I’m suicidal. Can you help me please?”. I want people to know they can offer help even when it’s not asked for. Like this “You seem pretty down. Are you feeling like hurting yourself?” or “Do you ever feel like hurting yourself?”
Let’s talk about mental health and suicide!!!
Suicidal thoughts are not shameful, I think everyone has them at one point in their life. So let’s talk about what is a shared experience for all of us regardless of the cause or reason we feel/felt that way. We can say “We can rely on each other and be honest about our feelings.” or “I’ve had suicidal thoughts. Have you?” or even “I’m a safe person to share suicidal thoughts with.” I guess it’s been my experience that offering help and having someone say “No, I just need to talk.” is much better than not offering. Discussing things makes it so that having future conversations isn’t awkward or difficult. If someone had cancer, they could talk about it openly. If someone had a broken leg and needed to go to the emergency room, they’d ask for help. Why should mental health be any different?!
I want people to know that medication can be a helpful tool for some people, and there’s no shame in that either. No, medication (or therapy, or anything else) cures mental illness-at least not yet. And finding the right meds, or combination of meds, or combination of therapies is BEYOND CHALLENGING and can be so frustrating! But it’s important that you do what works for you. Don’t judge yourself based on the meds you take. Don’t let others judge you based on your meds either. Everyone takes some kind of medication in their life because they need it. So if you need it, and that’s what you want, then there’s no shame in it. And if you don’t want meds, that’s ok too because it’s YOUR choice.
Lastly, I want every single person on this planet know that you are cared about, you matter and if you were gone this world wouldn’t be the same. This is true for every single person alive. Sometimes your brain will try to tell you this is a lie, but it’s not. So think about what will happen when you’re gone before you go. We all will die someday, that’s the nature of this fleeting journey we call life, so just be sure you really lived. And above all, be kind to yourself and to others. You never know what is going on with them.