Illustration by Sugandha Shukla

Why 13 Reasons is Never Enough

Why suicide is a far more complex issue than depicted in 13 Reasons Why.

Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers to the television series 13 Reasons Why.
There’s been a lot of buzz around Netflix’s new original series 13 Reasons Why, based on the 2007 book by Jay Asher. The show centers around the story of Hannah Baker, a high school junior who leaves behind tapes detailing the reasons for her death by suicide. The series has been heralded as a breakthrough in its portrayals of bullying, mental health and suicide as well as for its writing and diverse cast.
Yet it is exactly this depiction of mental health that has led to the show coming under fire. It is problematic in many ways, starting most obviously with its utter lack of mention of depression or mental health.
I watched the show once, so perhaps I missed it, but mental health as a topic for a show on suicide should not be so minute that it could be so easily overlooked. No one person, from the school counselor, to her teachers and classmates, to her family, mention that Hannah was likely suffering from depression or another mental health issue. Rather, the story focuses on placing the blame on others.
This minimizes the reasons behind Hannah’s suicide to events like bullying or unrequited love, without dealing with the larger consequences of untreated mental health. Even her rape, a much more traumatic event, is placed into this context, diminishing the crime to simply another reason.
It is important to note, of course, that the show portrays a side to rape rarely seen on television. Hannah’s friend Jessica gets raped at a party while completely unconscious — neither her boyfriend nor Hannah were able to face the rapist, who is not only physically larger but belligerently drunk. Hannah’s rape is also shown on camera. The long and graphic rape scenes have garnered mixed reactions. Some believe they are inappropriate considering many of the viewers are young, while others argue that is exactly why they are important.
But my issue with giving reasons remains — it is as if the show is providing justifications for suicide. Giving viewers 13 reasons why someone commits suicide insinuates going through these problems is reason enough for one to take their own life. And the issue is not that these problems aren’t real reasons to feel horrible, or sad or angry — rather, it is that suicide is far more complex than can be attributed to a list.
The larger problem with this is what audiences take away from this show. Almost every mental health professional will tell that oversimplifying suicide or showing ways of hurting yourself, like they do in the show, puts vulnerable individuals at an even higher risk of suicide. Headspace, a youth mental health foundation in Australia, posted on their website that it has “received a growing number of calls and emails directly related to the program.”
You might think the show can’t be that bad then, that it puts people in touch with what they are feeling and allows them to relate to a character, so they reach out for help before it is too late. But the show never explains what someone dealing with feelings of self-harm or depression should do to get help. Hannah’s only attempt to talk with the counselor was the day after her rape and that was depicted as being totally unhelpful. This is a valid criticism of the lack of help available for rape victims, but the show — which prides itself on attempting to bring light to such issues and help victims — could have at least added hotline numbers or places where someone could get help if they face a situation similar to Hannah’s.
But the overarching problem with the show lies in its misguided attempt at portraying kindness as the savior. In the last few episodes of the show, in fact, the character seems to stress that fact: if only the people on the tapes had not acted the way they did, then Hannah would be alive.
It’s what leads Clay, the main character, to reach out to a classmate suffering from self-harm and saying they should talk, ending the show with the implication that a small gesture of kindness can save a life. Even in the show, many people remain kind to Hannah the day of her suicide, but at this point, and even before, what Hannah needed is professional help.
The show should not be completely discredited — we are, after all, talking about mental health more — and people may have been made aware of issues they never knew about. It attempts to bring to light how a person can succumb to suicide. Everyone’s feelings and reactions are different, and I am not trying to discredit Hannah’s emotions or saying that she is whiny and self-centered, as some have. This is doubly dangerous, because viewers who recognize their own emotions and problems in Hannah may feel even more insignificant and worthless. At the end of the day, however, the show remains severely problematic in the fact that it never mentions depression or suicide as a mental health problem that needs medical help, which puts many members of its targeted audience at high risk of the very thing it is trying to prevent.
Editor’s Note: If any of the issues presented in this article affect you, support is available from the following: NYUAD Wellness Exchange hotline: 02 628 5555 NYUAD After-hours hotline: 02 268 8100 Indian Workers Resources Center hotline: 800 46 342
Katarina Holtzapple is a contributing writer. Email her at
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