13 Reasons Why

Shruti Pai, Writer

We’ve all heard about it, the edgy new television series making its way onto the screens of high schoolers all across the nation. Based on the novel by Jay Asher, the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why has become one of the most talked about, and most controversial, television shows today.

13 Reasons Why tells the story of Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), a high schooler whose friend Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) recently took her own life. Before killing herself, Hannah left a series of recordings on seven cassette tapes, detailing the story of each person who drove her to the decision of ending her life.

While this series has become widely popular amongst viewers of many age groups, it has also raised discussion of the negative effects such shows can have on high schoolers, specifically those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.

In an attempt to accurately depict the reality of high school, the show includes several graphic and uncensored accounts of violence, sexual assault, self harm and suicide throughout the series. Mental health experts fear that such images could be triggering to young people with suicidal thoughts and believe that the show may lead to an increase in suicide rates.

“There is a great concern that I have… that young people are going to over identify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series,” said executive director for the nonprofit Suicide Awareness Voice of Education Dan Reidenberg to ABC News.

Many also fear that the story of a pretty, likeable girl such as Hannah killing herself will glorify suicide, further romanticizing a serious issue rather than acknowledging its grim reality. Shows such as 13 Reasons Why tend to send the message that the only way to be heard is by taking your own life, and that no cares until you’re gone.

“The tendency to imagine you can kill yourself as a way to get back at people feels like an adolescent fantasy. It underlies so much of the narrative arch of the story,” said medical director of the JED Foundation Dr. Victor Schwartz to NBC News.

One of the most controversial lines of the show is said by Clay Jensen in the final episode of the series, “I cost a girl her life because I was too afraid to love her.”

The connotation behind this iconic line is that something as simple as unrequited love could be the reason behind a person committing suicide, rather than actual issues of mental illness. This contributes more to the romanticism of suicide and casts an even darker shadow on the serious issue of mental health.

Many schools across the country, including Pres, have issued warnings to students and parents about the dangers of this show. In the recent parent newsletter, the Lantern, counselors encouraged discussion between parents and students who might feel influenced by the graphic nature of the show, in order to encourage healthy consumption of the material.

In addition, The Suicide Prevention Program recently held a panel discussion at Leland High School to educate parents and teachers about the risks of such content and how to recognize if a student is showing signs of depression or suicidal behavior.

While this show has brought about significant controversy regarding suicide’s portrayal in the media, it has also brought to attention the silent struggles of many high schoolers today. The graphic material, though possibly triggering, manages to finally acknowledge the everyday challenges that many face, and forces viewers to acknowledge that certain actions do have serious consequences on the lives of others.

“I think it’s more a commentary on what happens when you’re mean to people on social media or when you ignore a problem that you see in your friends or even a stranger,” said Rosemarie Healy, Academic Dean and Class Counsellor. “It opens up the conversation and it makes everyone a little bit more aware of the people around them.”

Earlier this May, Brian Yorkey, showrunner for 13 Reasons Why, announced that a second season of the series is on the way, continuing the discussion on Hannah’s story and its place in the lives of teenagers.