Does 13 Reasons Why Glorify Suicide? | Teen Ink

Does 13 Reasons Why Glorify Suicide?

July 25, 2019
By Anonymous

In 2007 the author Jay Asher published the novel “13 Reasons Why”. Since then, the book, which revolves around the story of a girl, who committed suicide, has become an award-winning bestseller and was even made into a series by Netflix in 2017. But besides all the positive reviews and the great popularity, the novel and especially the series earned a lot of critique from psychologists, parents, and schools and was even blamed for the rate of teens committing suicide increased by 30% since the release of the series. But does “13 Reasons Why” actually glorify suicide and is it really that dangerous, or are parents and psychologists just overreacting?


In the main plot of the novel as well as the series, Clay Jensen, a high schooler, finds a mysterious shoebox with no return address on the porch in front of his house. Inside the box, there are 7 cassette tapes, which, as he discovers later, are recorded by his former classmate Hannah Baker, who committed suicide two weeks before. On these tapes, Hannah tells thirteen stories. Thirteen different, but somehow connected stories about thirteen different, but also in some way connected people - the 13 reasons, she says, that lead to her suicide. The tapes are being passed around amongst the people on Hannah’s list till every single one of them has received them once. Clay spends the whole night listening to the tapes and visiting the places that were magnificent in Hannah’s life. At the end of the night, his world has turned upside down. The way he thinks about his school, the people around him, his view on Hannah and most important of all, on himself have changed enormously. Psychologists have criticized the general way the story is being told. As Hannah guides through the thirteen stories on the tapes, it is herself talking and in the series, there are a lot of flashbacks that show Hannah while she was still alive. Even though she is dead, Hannah plays a huge role in every episode, which suggests that suicide is not final. Hannah’s constant presence makes it appear as if she was still there and could actively influence and change things while being death. Alyse Ruriani, a survivor of suicide attempt and mental health advocate said: “Having her (Hannah) reappear over and over makes the impact of the fact that she is dead get lost. When you die by suicide there is no coming back. You don’t get to hear the apologies and the things people wish they said when you are alive. You’re gone.” In the second season of “13 Reasons why” Hannah continues appearing as a kind of spirit, who can talk to the other characters in their minds and sometimes appears right behind them out of nowhere, which seems to be even more dangerous than the tapes and flashbacks in the first season. Another point of criticism is that the adults in the novel and the series don’t show much care and seem kind of oblivious. Hannah’s parents don’t recognize the suicidal thoughts of their daughter, cause in the novel, they are too busy with their business and struggling with financial issues in the series. Still, Hannah seeks help and eventually leaves her teacher an anonymous note proposing to talk about suicide in her peer communications class and admitting that she had been thinking about killing herself. Indeed, the teacher provides some information and facts about suicide, but when some of the students start to express themselves in not very sensitive ways by saying things like “[…] whoever wrote that note just wants attention.’’ she doesn’t rebuke them or defend the person, who wrote the note. In addition to that, she puts no effort into finding the affected student. When Hannah takes the last shot before entirely setting her mind to ending her life, she schedules a meeting with her guidance counselor, Mr. Porter. During that conversation, Hannah gives clear signs concerning suicide. Among them were statements, like “Right now I feel lost, I guess. Sort of empty.” and “I need everything to stop. People. Life.”. Even though Mr. Porter tells her that he is glad that she came and seems like he wants to help, he doesn’t do a good job and seems to be confirming Hannah in her plans, cause he doesn’t do anything she hoped for. Besides asking plumb, not very sensitive questions, Mr. Porter reacts quite harshly to Hannah’s statement about wanting everything to stop. As she then admits having experienced sexual assault, but not wants to confront the boy directly or betray his name, he tells her that the only other option left was to “just move on”. Afterward, Hannah leaves the office, secretly hoping that Mr. Porter will come after her, but he remains sitting in his office, which suggests that he doesn’t take Hannah’s signs seriously. School counselors have been outraged by this particular scene, cause they fear that students will start to see seeking help by adults or teachers as a bad or useless option and won’t consider it, even though Mr. Porter’s reaction is very unrealistic to happen in real life. Also, the behavior of Clay, who listens to the tapes, seems changed and concerns his mother, but she does not ask him or makes any approaches to have a conversation with her son, which isn’t responsible or caring at all. Of course, the producers of the series did not intend to make teens avoid talking about their mental circumstances but rather wanted to use it as a catalyst for conversation, as a Netflix spokesperson said. Still, in my opinion, students will be more quenched of talking to adults, cause the might expect a similar reaction from them as from the characters in the series and the novel. In addition to that, nor in the series or the novel there’s being said that Hannah’s suffering from any kind of mental illness, etc. Since it is not being mentioned in any way, it is to assume that Hannah was a healthy, average person before the stories on the tapes took place. Actually, this is quite unlikely to happen, because 90% of all the people, who commit suicide, suffer from any kind of mental disease, like depression, have or have had other suicidal people in their family or are at a higher risk. This is another point of criticism. Through not showing any kind of mental illness or a history involving suicide the audience isn’t educated enough on the main topic. They don’t witness that most suicides have something to do with diseases that are treatable if recognized. More likely, they will tend to think about suicide as a proof of weakness, cause Hannah just couldn’t deal and was overwhelmed by the incidents happening to her. It just seems like teen drama and takes away the seriousness and the whole medical aspect of suicide, even though this is a huge and very important one.


On the other hand, I understand that the producers of the series and the author of the novel wanted the main focus of the audience to be on how Hannah gets treated by others and how she could have been helped, if everyone would care more, be more sensible and pay attention to signs and details as well as their behavior and the impact they have on others. Indeed, this is a very important part of it too, but for me, it is not enough of a reason to just take away this huge part. It does not help to simplify and reduce such a complex topic to only one cause. If the audience would be educated on the most common causes and the diversity of mental illnesses that can lead to suicide, they would still learn to be aware of how they treat others, cause you never know if the other person suffers from one, but they would also gain information on the sings and the seriousness of mental diseases. Maybe they would learn that it is not enough to care about a suicidal or depressed person but to recognize it is a serious mental circumstance and seek professional help, instead of being in the disbelief that kindness and love alone can save a suicidal or depressed person. In addition to that, the series reflects Hannah’s outlook a lot. This can be good, because it makes Hannah more relatable to viewers, so that they might be able to understand the thoughts a suicidal person has better. This could be helpful for better communication between a suicidal person and oneself and it could strengthen the ability to identify a suicidal statement more easily. On the other side, vulnerable viewers could take that hopelessness Hannah has and her view on everything around her as dark as well as the feeling of not being able to trust anyone. Of course, there are also a few good things that happen in the story, but those are only little parts of Hannah’s life. This lets it seem like there is no other way out for Hannah than the one she chose. Instead of letting Hannah’s outlook take over the series nearly entirely, it could be differed a lot more between Hannah’s impressions and the ones of people, who loved Hannah and would have possibly been there for her to listen and help. Something else to think about is that Hannah’s tapes contain random stories out of her life, which have not much in common, except for that they all depressed and upset Hannah. On the one hand, this is only natural and the events are in some way connected, because some of the proceeding incidents have consequences that lead to even worse ones and each of them made Hannah more hopeless. On the other hand, people criticize that mixing serious topics, such as sexual assault with simple things could suggest that all the actions the people on Hannah’s list did were equally bad, which is definitely not true. In my opinion, this point of criticism is not as relevant, because Hannah’s story is supposed to be realistic and Hannah put everything on there that she thought was important. For me, seeing how different all those stories and actions are was even a very important part of the book’s message. It was symbolizing how all kinds of actions, from basically just doing nothing to illegal things, could affect and upset a person in the same way and how a whole bunch of small things formed into huge hopelessness, which seemed so overwhelming that Hannah decided to give up. It displays the importance and the impact a single person or a seemingly harmless joke can have. Another issue there is is that, different than in the novel, the series shows how after Hannah’s suicide and people listening to her tapes a lot of things change into the better. Hannah’s rapist confesses his wrongdoing, her parents expose the school’s pervasive culture of bullying and Sheri (called Jessica in the book) finally makes the report that she once knocked a stop sign over, which resulted in a car accident later. Of course, there is a lot of grief among Hannah’s peers and family too, but the positive consequences seem to prevail. This could lead to the disbelief that suicide always leads to positive results or at least justice. It even suggests that suicide is the only way to get there, since Hannah’s outlook is displayed so much in the show. This is a very dangerous message to send to vulnerable viewers. On the other hand, it is understandable that the series wasn’t supposed to end in a to oppressing mood, but I believe that you cannot force a positive ending to a story that involves such tragic actions and serious topics. Experts are also concerned about the novel as well as the show sending the message that suicide is an efficient way to take revenge on others. At some points on the tapes, Hannah seems kind of mean and insults other people for the things they did to her. The aggressive way she tends to talk in seems a little like she wants to take revenge on others. This plan even functions, because the people receiving the tapes do regret what they did remarkably. Not only they are being exposed in front of 12 other people, but also they feel guilty or at least responsible for Hannah’s death. I guess, the worst thing of all is that they cannot “rewind the past”, as said in the book. There is no second chance for them, no opportunity to say sorry or make it up to Hannah, because she is gone. Hannah even blames her suicide directly on them by calling them her “13 Reasons Why”. But for real, it was Hannah who made the decision and nobody else. One of the characters said: “You want to think whatever you did couldn’t be why Hannah killed herself. But the truth is, I did, I killed Hannah baker! And Justin killed Hannah Baker. And Jessica. And you. We all killed Hannah Baker.” This statement ignores that Hannah was the one making the final decision. Most of the time, the reason for a person to commit suicide is that he or she did not get treatment for a mental illness and not somebody else’s actions, even though these can indeed contribute to the person’s negative feelings. Since the show is not involving anything about a mental disease, it seems like Hannah’s suicide was something she couldn’t get control over, cause others had the power, but for real, she probably could still be alive, if she had received professional treatment. Displaying depression and suicidal thoughts as something you don’t have control over is, in my opinion, not only dangerous, but also incorrect. After receiving all this critique Netflix edited a controversial suicide scene, because of the scientifically proven bad influence of graphic details of somebody’s suicide. In addition to that, Netflix added warnings, provided information for where to get help if having suicidal thoughts and uploaded videos of the cast talking about some of the sensitive topics discussed in the series. A spokesperson also ensured that they worked together with health professionals since the first season. In my opinion, all of those actions are good ones to start with, but you can’t tell if they’ll be enough for everyone watching and if everyone watching will even read or watch the warnings, ect. For that reason, I believe that a series should always be able to speak for itself and not be dangerous for anyone without having to be explained, even though this is probably very challenging if you’re dealing with such sensitive topics. “So, does “13 Reasons Why” glorify suicide or doesn’t it ?” you’re probably asking. I would say yes and no. This question, as well as its’ answer, is very complex. I think it depends on who is watching the series or reading the book. Healthy and happy people can benefit from the story and gain some insights on how a suicidal person might feel. Vulnerable people, on the other hand, can be brought at an even higher risk. It is clear to see, that the producers of the series have only good intentions, but sometimes the series still does more harm than good. I believe, in general, it is good that there even is a series or a book that concerns such sensitive topics, but there still are a few issues that need to be resolved. Since I think that the series is more harmful, through more drama, a more or less positive ending and a lot of graphic detail including a second season, which seems to be featuring lots of physical appearances of Hannah and conversations with her. Also, many young people are watching it, due to Selena Gomez, who has a lot of young people as fans, being one of the producers. In my opinion, it is especially hazardous that many people watch the series without having anyone on hand to discuss the scenes with. I believe, it would be extremely helpful to read the book at school, where you are being guided through it. Students could analyze and evaluate the book and learn and benefit from it without being exposed to any too great danger. This way, students, who already watched the series and might got a wrong impression from it can be helped understand and also there would be an atmosphere created, where the students can trust and open up to the teacher, which isn’t only proofing that seeking help from adults is not useless, but could also be helpful for any further problems a student needs to discuss.


At the end of the day, I believe that the series and especially the book has great potential that we can benefit and growth from. Still, both, the novel and the series, are to be treated with a lot of care, cause they also contain some wrong statements and images, which is why I would really recommend reading the novel at school and also discussing some difficult content from the series there. Since “13 Reasons Why” can be hazardous at some points, it depends on us how we deal and what we take from it, but it is not bad in general and has great potential.

The author's comments:

This article is about the impact of 13 Reasons Why, a famous Netflix series and an award-winning bestseller novel. Lately, the series has been critizized a lot, due to the way it displays suicide.

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