I have taken quite some time to think about whether or not I wanted to write this post and, after much debate and hemming and hawing, I decided I was morally obliged (by my conscience - blasted thing) to do so regardless.
First things first, a disclaimer: 1) I have not watched '13 Reasons Why' nor do I intend to, 2) some of the content below may be triggering or emotionally disturbing. There is no graphic description or details regarding such content.
A lot of people have been talking about the latest Netflix hit, titled 13 Reason Why. I'm not going to be linking to the official sites, promotional videos, or quoting any lines because I'm about to express my complete disgust and disagreement with the very notion that something like this has even been aired. Now before you get your panties in a knot and start spouting phrases like, "But this is a big step forward for mental health advocates!", "People need to understand how serious suicide is!", "Kids are dealing with this, we need realism to come along side them!", hear me out. I'm going to give you a number of reasons why you should definitely not be watching this series, which will include reasons why this is not a big step forward for mental health advocates, and so on and so forth. We can discuss your opinions vs my opinions at the end if you'd like, but some ground must be covered before that happens. Furthermore, before you consider sharing your life story on your struggle with depression, anxiety, suicide, etc (and I am not making light of this in any way) to explain why you think your opinion is more valid than mine, kindly remember this: everybody has a story and you don't necessarily see the big picture.
For those of you who are unaware of this show, don't let me spark your interest. It's rated R/MA for mature audiences and ultimately glorifies and dramatizes the suicide of a teenager, wherein the audience follows along with her post-suicide cassette recordings that explain why she killed herself and who she blames for it. It's a story of revenge and does nothing to counteract the harmful content with what is needed in the area of mental health these days. It provides no hope nor any promise of healing, no discussion of diagnosis or treatment or recovery; that is a huge misuse of the entertainment platform. Nothing about this series is entertaining.
8 Reasons Why Not to Watch '13 Reasons Why'
- R/MA rating. If the notion of F-bombs, gratuitous rape scenes, and suicide don't already shout stay-away, massive trigger warning!!! with blazing red flares, then I honestly don't know what's wrong with you. This is not a teen-friendly show and, having read reviews and synopses discussing its content, I don't think it's adult friendly either. You're essentially watching the abuse and destruction of a child's life... how is that screen worthy? Even if it's fictional, it leads to her "death"... how is that something you can condone watching? And why would one consider hiding behind the statement of, "The message is important" - let me tell you, this particular message is detrimental and harmful, it is not helpful in any way, shape, or form.
- There is no happy ending. Yes, life doesn't always end happily - sometimes it ends with a pitiful whimper in the midst of horrifying internal pain. If you know me well, then you will recall that I'm a strong advocate for realistic literature depicting the fact that life is certainly not fair, kind, or happy. However, it's one thing to write such hopeless, dystopic messages and send them off into the literary world... it's another thing to graphically show them on screen and not have appropriate measures taken to ensure that the information isn't going to harm viewers.
- Triggers. I'm not even going to talk about this one in depth. Those who struggle will understand that graphic depiction of self-harm and rape is not healthy. In fact, several years back, the social media site Tumblr underwent massive renovation to remove/restrict all accounts that sent out negative mental-health messages to their audiences. Hundreds of sites were closed to ensure that tumblrs previously posting pro-anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, and sexual abuse would no longer be able to do so (this included, but is not limited to: graphic images, triggering content, and negative "advice"). This was one of several social media facelifts that occurred and prompted numerous users to employ trigger warnings on their content and has shifted the atmosphere from the perpetuation of mental illness to the encouragement for seeking help and recovery. If social media sites restrict and punish users for harmful content, why is there not a greater outrage at this TV series? This is not art. Death is not art. And suicide, rape, and self-harm are absolutely not art. Too many people have already spoken up about how 1) it doesn't have nearly enough trigger warnings to make people cautious and 2) it has brought about unexpected and difficult emotional responses to those with past traumatic experiences or with a history of mental illness.
- It simplifies the consequences and promotes blame. Death is final; handling such a serious topic in such a primitive, petty way is distasteful. It isn't a show that tells the story of the tragic loss of a human being... rather, it is a dramatic retelling that flaunts death and showcases how a school becomes wrapped up in the drama of the event. Death is not something to be taken lightly and it is certainly not something to chat about as if it were a mystery puzzle for your benefit. Additionally, the message is revenge instead of recovery. If this were truly a series with an intent on educating about mental illness, then there would be a far better coverage of steps to recovery for those who currently suffer.
- It is in direct violation of the recommendations for reporting on suicide. Over 50 academic studies around the world have shown a connection between poor reporting on suicide and increased likelihood of suicide. These guidelines were developed by many well known suicide-prevention groups (including, but not limited to, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Medical University of Vienna, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute). Their intention was to provide members of the media with guidelines to ensure they do not fearmonger with their stories or write triggering news articles. If such statistics are associated with simple reporting of actual events, then how much more harmful would a graphic film be to at-risk audience members?
- It doesn't provide any alternatives. There is no out-right discussion or naming of depression or mental illness. There is no balancing out of the graphic images with statements about how treatment is readily available and it does work - things DO get better and recovery is possible. Leaving an audience hanging, especially for a show that may attract those suffering from depression or struggling with thoughts of self-harm and suicide, is a harmful thing. Yes, suicide has happened and likely will continue to happen, but we need to focus on directing people to recovery and treatment instead of letting them drown in the agony of such emotionally disturbing information.
- It gives a very bad reason for survivors guilt. Yes there is such a thing as survivors guilt, and yes it is based on a lie. The characters in this series are driven to feelings of guilt and obligation and the viewers revel in the revenge. No matter what the world tells you about responsibility for suicide, the only person that should ever be blamed is the one no longer present. Like I've already said, there are many treatment options and there is plenty of hope for people struggling with thoughts like these. It still all boils down to their decision - will they seek and wrestle out their recovery, or will they end their life. Yes there are factors that impact that ultimate decision, but the only one in control at that point of no-return is the person owning the body. There are horrible people out there who will hurt you and put you down, abuse you and try to destroy you - but unless they outright kill you, they cannot ever be responsible for your death. Basing this series around the revenge acquired by the infliction of guilt and humiliation does not help anyone - it only promotes further harm.
- It provides a graphic depiction of suicide. In no way, shape, or form should suicide be graphically shown on screen, even if trigger warnings are given beforehand. Authorities have removed and banned videos of real suicides and deaths from social media before - just because this series is not "real" does not mean that they should have any right to step-by-step show such a horrible thing simply for its shock value. People have become so desensitized to what is okay to watch and what is not okay to watch; once you see a graphic scene like this you can't unsee it. I mean heck, one of my English professors at university required her Holocaust Autobiography/Biography class to report any symptoms of PTSD because some of the readings were graphic. This is a university class full of adults and the professor was concerned about the impact it would have on our mental health...we're talking about a TV series with graphic scenes of self-harm and suicide. I am so deeply disturbed to think of people sitting comfortably on their couch with a cup of tea in hand, languidly watching a young girl kill herself. HOW IS THAT OKAY? THAT IS NOT OKAY! I don't care if it's a show, I don't care if it's "entertainment", and I certainly don't care if you think you are educating yourself on the struggle of mental health - that is not something anyone should ever watch.
This post was extremely difficult to write. It's the effort of multiple days, of weeks of thought, and I still feel like I haven't expressed my point very well. However, it needed to go out into the world and do its thing, so I eventually decided to not spend any more time on it. What happens will happen. I just want to bring awareness to the fact that it is very negative and harmful and I 100% do not recommend this show. Yes, we need to talk about mental health. Yes we need to discuss depression, self-harm, bullying, rape, and suicide, but not in a manner that is for simple entertainment. Not in a way that could cause people to hurt or to relapse or to suffer. We need to be delicate, but we also need to be bold.
If you are currently struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-harm, depression, anxiety, or any mental illness, please seek professional help. Confide in someone you trust, or call a help line. For Canadians, please visit: http://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/.
Signed with love,