Book Reviews

Why 13 Reasons is… a poor representation of mental health

Why 13 Reasons why is a poor representation of mental health…

Warning: Suicide, and mental illness such as depression and anxiety will be discussed in this post.

My Twitter and Facebook timelines have been covered in posts about 13 Reasons Why this week. I read the book when I was 15 and was conflicted. On one hand, I was happy that the issue of suicide in teenagers was discussed, but on the other, it does a god-awful job of explaining.

Bear in mind  that I’m mostly basing this off the book. I haven’t watched the show in whole but I’ve seen bits and pieces and picked up a lot of other’s opnions online.

Why 13 Reasons is a bad representation of mental health:

13 reasons why book cover

The fact that it shows how people’s actions have an affect on someone, is something I enjoyed. It teaches people a lesson about being kinder to others.

However, Hannah seems to blame everyone for her problems, and it nearly seems like she does it out of spite for those people. Furthermore, the fact that she made tapes to send, and shame, people in school, but didn’t leave her parents so much as a note just doesn’t sit right with me.

The fact that did not put a trigger warning before Hannah’s suicide attempt is reckless. I saw that scene and it took me a solid two hours to calm back down. Not only was showing it without appropriate warnings reckless but they made the method more graphic. They did this for shock factor, not for the real mentally ill or suicidal people actually watching. Not only could they have alluded to the method, but at the very least, they could have left it the way it was in the book, but it was less graphic.

The reality for Mentally Ill Teenagers

When I was 15, I heard someone on TV say that teenagers that have committed suicide don’t know what they’re doing because their brains aren’t developed properly yet. I can’t argue with the fact that you’re not the most mature during the teenage years, but you’re not incompetent either. There’s a very big difference between being hormonal and being suicidal.

There’s a belief that young people are just looking for attention or being dramatic when they try to seek help for emotional issues. It’s all “young people are so whiney” until someone, unfortunately, does commit suicide and the discourse changes to “they were so beautiful. The poor thing”. Around 90% of suicides are due to mental illness, 13 Reasons Why isn’t the most accurate representation of it. If anything, it almost romanticises suicide. The actual topic of mental illness left a lot to be desired in the book.

Mental illness does not discriminate. No matter who you are, mental illness can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re young, and in better circumstances than someone else. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. Some mental illnesses are hereditary. Everything in your life could be perfect, and you can still be depressed.

Destroying hope for the vulnerable

The part where Hannah puts her last amount of hope into her guidance counsellor was a great example of young people being told to “get over it”, but also disturbing. After that, Hannah solidifies the idea of committing suicide, believing there is no help. It’s so bleak, that I worry anyone who is vulnerable reading it will also feel that there is no point trying to reach out to others.

Hannah was clearly a danger to herself in this scene. A real teacher would not have left her leave that room until they were 100% sure she wasn’t going to hurt herself. As the many many therapists I’ve seen over the years have told me;

“Everything you say is confidential, unless you express that you’re at risk to yourself or others, in which case, I have to break confidentiality”

In real life, that scene would have unfolded very differently.

Wasted Potential

Ultimately, I feel like 13 Reasons Why had a lot of potential. If done differently, it could have resonated with a lot of young people. It could have helped people understand that young people’s feelings are just as valid as everyone else’s. I think Jay Asher and Selena Gomez had good intentions, it just came out wrong. Someone somewhere behind the scenes absolutely cared more about ratings, publicity, and shock-factor, than responsible story telling. I’m willing to give Selena Gomez and Jay Asher the benefit of the doubt, but there’s someone with bad intentions. They were told not to show the suicide by mental health professionals. They included it for the attention it would get, and it took them two long years to finally edit it out. Two years is too late.

In the end, I think it just perpetuates the stigma. The average person has no additional understanding of mental illness or depression after it. They might actually have just come to the conclusion that teenagers are incompetent, petty, and whiny because of it. Which isn’t true. The mental health of young people and teenagers is a very serious real thing. We can’t keep dismissing them.

13 Reasons Why is a terrible representation of mental health. Heathers is satire and it did a better job. Cyberbully didn’t go into much depth on depression either, but I’d recommend it more. It’s less triggering, but also paints a better picture of bullying driving young people to suicide.

One of the big reasons why 13 Reasons Why is a poor representation of mental health is because they went against what mental health professionals advised, and there was real life consequences to that.

Here’s how I mind my mental health,and if you’re intersted in mental health books, I’d recommened Me & My Mate Jeffrey, and Girl, Interrupted.

What did you think of 13 Reasons Why? Did you read the book, see the show, or both? Do you think 13 Reasons Why is a poor representation of mental health, or do you disagree with me?

stock image of a cassette tape: 13 reasons why is a bad representation of mental health

0 thoughts on “Why 13 Reasons is… a poor representation of mental health

  1. Totally agree. [spoilers]
    What didn’t sit well with me was how it was ‘be consious of your actions’ and then Hannahs actions caused one person to attempt to kill themselves and the main protag to contemplate jumping off a cliff because the tapes affected him (he didn’t do anything ‘wrong’ besides not asking her out again). People are spinning it as this great message when it’s incredibly hypocritical and twisted.

    also i felt the cheapened the entire thing by making her suicide more ‘dramatic’ instead of her swallowing pill like the book.

    Good post!

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