I’m sure a lot of you have heard of the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Based on a book by Jay Asher, this show follows the double narrative of two high school students whose lives are irrevocably touched by suicide (that’s not a spoiler is it?). Reviews of the series were controversial: some praised the directors for opening up the discussion around suicide and mental illness, others claimed that some of the brutally honest scenes are uncomfortable at best and dangerously triggering at worst.
People who had themselves experienced mental illness took to the Internet in their masses to share their opinions about the series: these were as divisive as the rest. Needless to say, I had to see what the fuss is about for myself. Here are my 13 reasons why I decided to watch 13 Reasons Why.
1. I am in a safe place emotionally
Before I started reading-slash-watching the series I’d already heard quite a lot about it. I knew that it deals with the themes of suicide, depression, bullying, anxiety, self-harm and rape (amongst others). Having had quite an uncomfortably close experience with some of the issues mentioned above, I knew that I’m going to find some bits of it very difficult to read-slash-watch. In fact, some reviewers recommend discretion about whether or not you should watch the series if you’re currently struggling with some mental health issues. Happily, I know that I am secure enough emotionally to watch 13 Reasons Why without putting myself in a dangerous place.
2. The media buzz
Something that attracted this much media attention has got to be good. I can’t help seeing it crop up every so often on social media and it simply roused my curiosity.
I first heard about the series after seeing one of those “Welcome to your tape” memes (which is a whole other can of worms in itself…). I’m gonna be honest: I suffer from a serious case of FOMO (for the uninitiated: ‘fear of missing out’) at the best of times so you can understand why I found the premise of this show irresistible.
4. Can’t stay away from a controversy
As I’ve mentioned, viewers of this show had extremely polarised opinions. Some thought it was a fantastic means of making mental illness a less taboo topic: the sheer volume of reviews, articles and blog posts that the series have generated around mental health has been incredible. Others are convinced that portrayal of some of the themes is downright irresponsible (see: reason #1). I had to judge for myself, haven’t I?
5. Can’t turn down the chance to share my two pennies’ worth
(See: this entire blog post, with especial attention to reason #4).
6. Can’t turn down a good book
Did I mention that it was based on a novel? I’ve always got a book on the go (especially when I have something like a huge dissertation to write that is literally worth a quarter of my degree). So when something shoots to popularity in the manner of the small screen adaptation of 13 Reasons Why, it’s only a matter of time before I get around to reading it.
7. The book was sublime
I read the book before I saw the series. It quite easily rocketed up to the top 5 of my favourite book-slash-book-series of all time. On an unrelated note, I’m quite annoyed that all but one spot (occupied by Rowling’s acclaimed Harry Potter series that dominated most of my childhood) are taken up by American authors… but never mind.
8. It’s American
I’m always a little but curious about life as an American adolescent. I’m not entirely sure how much of it is excessively glamorised (I’m looking at you, Mean Girls), but something about the cliquey world of jocks, cheerleaders, and **dump every other American high school stereotype here** fascinates me. It’s probably not the most accurate representation of school life over the pond but, hey, I’m sure they’re entitled to a bit of artistic licence.
Well, what can I say. Various bits of guidance from suicide prevention initiatives quote that some suicidal people have a preoccupation with the topics of death and suicide. I guess I’m just a textbook case. (Don’t freak. I’m safe. Really).
10. Comparing notes
On a related note to reason #9, I kind of want to see how close they portrayed Hannah as a teenaged woman who struggled with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. I can say that some scenes-slash-paragraphs exploring Hannah’s feelings and trains of thought resonated with me when I watched-slash-read it. Nice job, producers-slash-author!
11. It’s a brave theme to explore
Despite the growing interest and decreasing stigma around mental health, I can safely say that suicide is still a relatively taboo subject. At the very least, most people would find it uncomfortable to talk about. It’s a brave move by the people involved to hit the mainstream media with this.
12. It makes me feel less alone
Let me be clear: suicidal thoughts and behaviours are never a normal response to stress. However, it is a lot more common than you might think. In my own experience, even with people who are extremely empathetic, it’s rather isolating to have these thoughts that just seem so alien and terrifying for other people. It’s nice (even if that is the right word… liberating? A relief?) to see someone – albeit a fictional someone – explore the thoughts and feelings around suicide that I can very rarely express without alarming someone.
13. It’s one way to open up the discussion about mental health
(Again, see: this entire blog post). I am glad that Jay Asher published his book. I am glad that Brian Yorkey (thanks, Wikipedia) developed it for the small screen. I am glad that so many people have pitched in their own thoughts about this book-slash-series. It’s good to talk about mental health.
If you need to talk, call the Samaritans on 116 123 (UK and ROI) or email email@example.com.