Monday, April 24, 2017

Discussion: Why Thirteen Reasons Why is Not OK

I'm sure you've heard the buzz surrounding the book/tv show Thirteen Reasons Why. As book bloggers, we may know Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher was published in 2007 by Razorbill. Since the debut of the TV show on Netflix, book sales skyrocketed on numerous bestseller lists including NYT and Audible. Was it a good book? When I read it, I was in middle school and I hated it. I didn't feel the need to re-read it before watching the TV show, so these opinions are solely based on my opinion of the TV-show adaptation. As a school psychologist, I watched this show critically from a mental health standpoint and cringed during many of the parts. I am writing this blog post to share with you the main problems I have with this show and how it portrayed suicide.

If you are unaware of what this book is about: here is a short summary

You can't stop the future.
You can't rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker--his classmate and crush--who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah's voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out why. 

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah's pain, and as he follows Hannah's recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

#1) Hannah blamed everybody for her suicide 
Not just Hannah, EVERYONE pointed fingers. It was his fault, her fault, the schools fault, the parents fault. These tapes were the blame game, and it finally put the power of voice back in her hands. I am aware that many of the individuals on the tapes were in the wrong for bullying and engaging in other illegal actions. However, this gives the illusion that someone is to blame in the case of suicide, which is not the case. This is dangerous and can perpetuate the idea of revenge suicide being the only way to get someones point across. 

#2) There was no mention of mental health/depression 
90% of those who commit or attempt to commit suicide have depression or another mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. Isn't that worth bringing up? Suicide is an important topic, but so is mental health. Everyone always talks about the "stigma" of mental illnesses, but how can the stigma disappear if it's pushed away and superficial causes are brought to the surface?

#3) No School Support 
Why was this demonstrating that schools react like this when students reach out for help? INACCURATE! That is illegal. Threat assessment would have been performed, mental health professionals and parents would have been notified. This is extremely upsetting given that if adolescents who might be depressed are watching, they may be discouraged from seeking help because they think that nobody will listen to them.

#4) It shows that there is a point to suicide 
Hannah's point was to make other people think about their actions. Is it good to reflect on bullying and realizing that you made a wrong decision? Of course! However, killing oneself doesn't "teach anyone a lesson". Suicide never has a positive outcome and this TV show is demonstrating that this was the only solution to seeing a change in anyones actions. Basically, it seemed like Hannah was a martyr whose death finally allowed people to see the problems of their actions. Say it with me, suicide is never the answer. 

#5) "Research shows that exposure to another person's suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide."
Where does this come from? NASP (National Association of School Psychologists) issued a cautionary article regarding the TV show "13 Reasons Why" and this was included in the article. This show portrayed graphic rape and suicide scenes which correlates with "graphic or sensationalized accounts of death". If you'd like to read the article, I have a link for you right here:
NASP Article

I'd just like to know - who is this helping? I'd love to know your opinions of this show or the book. Now I realize that on the surface that the "moral of the story" is to be nice because you don't know how your actions are really affecting people. However, I feel like this TV show does NOT accurately depict suicide or mental illnesses, as a lot of books about mental health actually don't. I didn't mean to offend anyone with this post, they are simply my opinions and I'd also love to hear yours in the comments below!

- Jocelyn

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