I’d been hearing the buzz about the recently-released Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why.” The basic premise is a troubled teenaged girl commits suicide, but before she does she records 7 tapes explaining the 13 reasons why she took her life. The reasons were basically acts of commission or omission by friends and enemies in her high school. The story begins at the point when one of her friends, Clay, receives the tapes and begins listening to them.
This is not a spoiler-free review…
There’s lots I could say about the series. This is not the typical show I sit and watch, but because it was opening up dialogue about suicide, rape, and bullying even among my peers I felt compelled to watch. There was also a much deeper reason I felt compelled to watch…
While I know probably exactly zero teenagers read my blog I wanted to share my feelings about “13 Reasons Why” as someone who has been there. Like Hannah, when I was a sophomore in high school I contemplated committing suicide. While my situation was quite a bit different from Hannah Baker’s the feelings were the same. The path to suicidal ideation is a complicated one, and not only for teenagers but for anyone who has dealt with difficult losses or abuse be they age 16 or 100.
Back to the series. I am not recommending the show. It is way off the mature-content deep end of what I usually allow myself to watch (and I’m in my late 40s). I don’t recommend it to teens at all, but I know they’re watching it anyway, so moot point. Again, I only watched it because it was so close to something I had experienced myself and the buzz surrounding it. If you haven’t watched the show and are in the throes of depression or in the aftermath of abuse (especially sexual abuse) PLEASE, DON’T WATCH IT! It is triggering…UBER-triggering. Even if you consider yourself healed from depression, abuse, or trauma if you watch this series be ready to feel pretty lousy for a day or so after watching episode 13. I daresay even if you’ve had a smooth-sail of life up to this point, this series will probably affect you deeply, because you probably know people who have been in the situations described in the series. It is very graphic and explicit. The language is horrible though probably pretty realistic for most high schools these days. It’s probably only slightly worse than when I was in high school 30 years ago I’m sad to say.
As far as storytelling I will say the series is done well. It is designed to lure you into a binge watch. It does the job. It’s emotional cocaine. Try to resist the urge to binge. I only allowed myself to watch two episodes max, per day, and then I either had to palate-cleanse by watching a lighthearted show, or I had to transfer into my quiet time with the Lord to pray and read the word to deal with the emotions it brought up.
Now, Hannah Baker…there are some issues with her character in which I had great difficulty. I’m not minimizing anyone who contemplates suicide (again, I did many years ago), but because Hannah is a written character and not a real-life one I will bullet-point what I found wrong with the way her character was written:
- Major Drama Queen (a.k.a mentally ill)–Okay, teenagers inherently are drama queens/kings, but Hannah Baker took it to a whole ‘nother level. The fact that her suicide was basically revenge against everyone who had hurt her, and her suicide note a 7-tape dialogue of how everyone had done her wrong screams personality disorder to the max. Her depression was secondary it seems which is why she didn’t sell me on on being the suicidal type. The girl definitely needed help, and while her inept high school guidance counselor would be better working in the cafeteria than in counseling kids, Hannah’s “reaching out for help” was another lame excuse to take her life. She taped the lone counseling session to prove her final point. She wasn’t asking for help she was gathering evidence. Dramatic, yes, but not realistic.
- She supposedly had no friends? Huh!? Hannah was actually outgoing and popular, but she lamented on and on about how she had no friends. While some of the people in her life I would only characterize as “Frienenemies” at best she had some people in her life who truly cared for her even if their so-called fatal flaw was that they didn’t pick up on her deeply-veiled depression. Yet, she blamed them anyway. She pushed them away, especially poor Clay who thought, like most males, when a girl says “Go away!!” while crying she actually means it. That brings me to another point…
- She had parents who truly loved her and were involved with her. Her parents may have been a little oblivious and involved in their own problems, but it was obvious they truly loved Hannah, and it seemed she truly loved them. It was hard for me to swallow that at the end of the day that love didn’t stop Hannah from killing herself, and not only that, stop her from killing herself in a way that guaranteed her parents would be the first to find her. I found that a hundred times more cruel than leaving behind 7 tapes as revenge towards her friends.
- She set herself up for failure…intentionally. I’m going to preface what I’m about to say with I do not believe any person “asks” to be raped. Rape can happen if you’re walking down the street, at a family function, or at a party with friends; however, who in their right mind walks into a party thrown by a person who you have witnessed rape someone?! Hannah called it “a siren’s call.” I just call it stupid and self-destructive and bad writing. Also, I think most of us would’ve fought way harder than she did even if we were in a shut down/semi-drunk state. Ref. “Bad writing.”
- She never contemplates God. Okay, I can’t remember if she mentions God or not (I’m not watching again to find out), but God is not in the equation of Hannah’s life or in the taking of it. God is not considered or even called upon in any substantial way. Hopelessness prevails.
I could go on about other characters and other situations in the series but I won’t. While it has definitely opened up dialogue about bullying, rape, and suicide at the end of the day it’s a show written in highly-dramatic overtones and has done it’s job by being a ratings boon. I don’t doubt that everything portrayed in the series is happening in American high schools everyday, and that’s why I feel that the series could potentially trigger troubled teens into doing something similar as Hannah. While I felt the suicide scene was not romanticized (it was very hard to watch) the series in general romanticized suicide which is something that if I were a writer and a producer of such a series I would undertake with great trepidation to the point I wouldn’t do it unless I interjected some hope and guidance somewhere…anywhere. There are a few disclaimers and links to suicide prevention helps, but it’s not enough. Overall, without God in the mix all the counseling and platitudes seem baseless. Without God there is no hope, period, and in our Godless culture I believe that’s why suicide is becoming more and more prevalent.
I read a great blog post by a counselor regarding the show. Whether you’re a teenager, a parent of teenager, or someone who has dealt with suicidal ideation this blog post says it way better than I have.
Back to my story a bit. I won’t go into the gory details of what lead me to contemplate suicide as a 16 year old, but it had to do with a boy, and while that was over 30 years ago recent events in my life took me back to the same point I was in those dark days of my sophomore year. Why didn’t do it in 1985? At the end of it all it was God. He stopped me. His hand literally restrained me from driving off the side of a mountain. That same night in my car I was overwhelmed with God’s presence infusing me with the reality that I had so much going for me in life. I had a family who loved me dearly who would’ve been devastated if I had done what I was contemplating. I couldn’t do that to them. I had friends. I had a supportive church family, and most of all I had God. I came to the conclusion that while there are people in this life worth dying for if the situation called for it there is no one…NO ONE in this life worth killing yourself over… not 13, 1,300 or 13,000. God created you, and He has a purpose for your life. When I faced a similar situation in my 40s I went back to that time that God showed me that if everyone turned their back on me He was enough. While there were days in my recent past I wanted to die I didn’t contemplate suicide. He truly is enough even in the darkest valley of pain and betrayal.
If you are in a dark place, and especially if you are contemplating suicide please, please message me! I have plenty of information to send to you, and I will personally help you in any way I can. I’m including links below to resources too! You are special, and you are loved! Please do not take your precious, precious God-given life for any reason! There are more than 13 reasons why you need to stay and live the life that God has planned for you! It may hurt now, but believe me, it will get better!