“13 Reasons Why” Can Be A Jumping-Off Point To Discuss Real Issues Facing Teens
As an NYC therapist who works with teens, I couldn’t ignore the polarized response to the depiction of teens, mental health and suicide in Netflix’s show 13 Reasons Why. The show centers around high school junior Hannah Baker who leaves thirteen tapes to thirteen people, explaining what led up to the day she killed herself. At times painful to watch, 13 Reasons Why follows Hannah’s friend Clay as he listens to these tapes, relives her last year or so of high school, and revisits what happened to her and those that affected her.
Since its debut in May, there have been a lot of folks in the mental health, school counseling, education, and suicide prevention world saying this show grossly portrays suicide and is unrealistic. If you’re suffering, they say, don’t get too close to this show. Recently finishing the series myself, I get really upset at the defensiveness of these responses–they seem to want to box pain up.
Of course, I don’t want any of my teen patients or any teen (or person) to commit suicide, but the way I see it is: if a teen is in pain, isolated, lonely and seething, they will find a way to view this show and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, as a therapist, I see 13 Reasons Why as a possible jumping-off point to get closer to the issues teens are dealing with on a regular basis–so much so that I’ve highlighted 13 ways 13 Reasons Why expands the conversation. For the next thirteen days in August, I’ll be featuring one of these topics a day with a full-wrap up on August 14:
13 Reasons Why doesn’t hide from suicide. It throws viewers right in to hopefully scare suicidal thoughts out of teens. Ultimately, the show depicts suicide as a real thing teens do, as well as think about and don’t do. Several characters, apart from Hannah, think about suicide both pre-and post-Hannah’s death. The show also accurately addresses the way teens often view suicide, which is in the moment and as a reaction when they see no other way out or to make the pain stop. Teens very often think in absolutes rather than seeing multiple options. This can mean an absolute act like suicide is something that can float around in their brains.