13 Reasons Why: Pyscotherapist Reflection

Reposted with permission

I am a mom. And I am a psychotherapist. I have actually been a psychotherapist longer than I have been a mom. That’s originally why I picked up the book 13 Reasons Why. I was intrigued by its premise: a teen takes her life, then leaves behind a record of who contributed to her decision, and how. Intrigued is one word I have used — but if I am being intellectually honest with myself and you, I was put off by the premise. I was scared. As a mom of two daughters, 12 and 16, facing this book seemed daunting. I put it down. Even therapists have their limits….
I buried this book, along with its premise, for a couple of years. But like all things that scare us and bring out our vulnerabilities, this stuff comes back. This time, it came back in the form of a Netflix series that my 12 year old daughter began begging to watch. “All of my friends are watching it”, “They are going to spoil the ending for me!” (umm……that’s already been revealed!), and the ever-famous, “You are too overprotective…”.
Was I overprotective? I don’t want to shield my younger daughter from how devastating mental illness can be, especially because it is my life’s work to help people combat these demons. However, the premise still scared me. 
I made her an offer. We would watch the series together, and have frank discussions. This idea was rejected based on the fact that my daughter felt “uncomfortable” talking to her therapist mother about the subject matter. My answer was that if she couldn’t talk about it, she was not allowed to watch it. Case was closed.
Well, the case was closed for her. I decided to watch the series. But this time, as a mental health provider, not as a mother. Here is what I learned: 13 Reasons Why is irresponsible and disturbing. I will make this an easy read, and put this into bullet points.
Nobody else is responsible for our mental health. The premise of Thirteen Reasons Why disturbed me. I understand that the author was attempting to illustrate the point that our actions have an impact on people and at times, that impact can be severe. Small sins add up, and create a cumulative effect that can sometimes have dire consequences. I agree with these assertions. However, as a mental health provider, I work with people to find their power, and their voice. And yes, I work with teens to do this as well. We need to own and name our feelings as well as our actions. I believe we should teach our children to dig deep and find resilience, not point fingers at others and hold them responsible for our feelings and actions. 

Thirteen Reasons Why is a suicide revenge fantasy. Hannah received everything in death that she was hoping for: sympathy, deep regret, guilt, and ultimately — love. However, what the teen brain cannot process is the fact that Hannah is dead – permanently, and never coming back. The concept of the permanence of death is not solidified for a teen at this point in development. This makes suicide seem like an actual option if this can be achieved.

Mental health issues — and the help that’s available — are barely discussed. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are very real things that Hannah and other characters in the series struggle with. However, the opportunity to model both the struggle with the issues and the options that are available for addressing them — whether that means talking with a trusted adult who actually listens, to pursuing the right kind of mental health support — is missed. Instead, the focus is on suicide as a revenge act.

Girls are depicted as disempowered. I read a great article in New York Magazine by Anna Silman that discusses Thirteen Reasons Why, and the culture of misogyny our teenage girls face. While this could have been a very powerful message in the book, it gets overshadowed by the revenge fantasy that Hannah’s suicide provides. How about addressing the boys’ terrible behavior head-on? How about calling attention to sexual assault and what we can do to change it? I would have liked to see more outrage, and less disempowerment, from this show.

The suicide scene is cause for outrage. I am not for censorship. I am not Tipper Gore from the 80’s. But this scene was, plain and simple, a tutorial on how to complete the act of ending your life. It was graphic, It was bloody, and it was unnecessary. The book ended with a pill overdose, and yet the series ended with razor blades. Why? What purpose did changing Hannah’s method — and graphically depicting the suicide — serve?

13 Reasons Why glamorizes suicide. The series, and the book, go against best practices for addressing suicide responsibly. ReportingOnSuicide.org created recommendations as a guideline for the media on how to safely report on suicide. Research shows us that how suicide is reported has an impact on the public health of society. According to ReportingOnSuicide.org:

Don’t sensationalize the suicide

Don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note, if there is one

Don’t describe the suicide method

Report suicide as a public health issue

Don’t speculate why the person might have done it

Don’t quote or interview police or first responders about the causes of suicide

Describe the suicide as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed him/herself” rather than “committed suicide”

Don’t glamorize suicide

13 Reasons Why breaks all of these rules. Violating these guidelines puts our teens at risk. Romanticizing the act of suicide in a medium that teens hold near and dear to their heart is dangerous and irresponsible. 
These are my two cents as a psychotherapist, not a mother. My purpose of sharing my point of view was not to judge. The decision on whether or not a parent should let their child watch is a personal one. If you do let your children watch, please heed this advice: watch it with them. Talk to them. Assure them that you are here for them, that they are loved and empowered, and that suicide is never an option.
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Brooke Fox, LCSW, is a co-owner of Fox, Levine and Associates, Learn more about Brooke here.
Thirteen Reasons Why is a Netflix series (rated TV-MA: Mature Audience Only, “specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17”) based on the original YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher.

Most Y’all Missed This ’13 Reasons Why’ Detail & It Sheds Insight Into Alex’s Story

If you haven’t finished 13 Reasons Why, exit out of this post right now because I am about to end all debates about the last episode.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, 13 Reasons Why is proving to be one of the best and most socially aware young adult series in recent memory. It accurately shows what high school parties are like, using the kind of language high schoolers truly use (yes, F-bombs come out in droves), and not pulling any punches on more sensitive material. From almost everyone who has seen the show (many critics excluded), it is a poignant, incredibly well-done series that hits home pretty hard.

Seeing as it’s been several weeks since the show aired, you’ve probably either finished the series or got most of the way through it, which is what brought you here. It was a compelling show that made you want to get to the end just because of what it was talking about. For the same reasons, you probably had a hard time finishing it. However, if you weren’t paying enough attention while watching, you’ll not have noticed this one moment that changes the show’s entire narrative completely.

'13 Reasons Why' [Credit: Netflix]
’13 Reasons Why’ [Credit: Netflix]

It’s All In The Little Details

Unlike Clay Jensen, I’m not going to drag this out and make you wait 13 hours to know the whole story of what happened to Hannah Baker. During the 13th and final episode of the series, the Baker family finally has their deposition against the school. Several of the students from the tapes are called in and we get to see a few of their recordings as they’re sitting there being interviewed.

If you look to the bottom left corner of the screen, you’ll see the date that the tapes were recorded. Taking into account that the show was released on March 31st, 2017, this date changes everything about the show.

Zach Dempsey's deposition. '13 Reasons Why' [Credit: Netflix]
Zach Dempsey’s deposition. ’13 Reasons Why’ [Credit: Netflix]

November 10th, 2017: None of this has happened yet. OK, well some of it has.

The Story So Far

Hannah went to the park with Justin Foley, sparking that ill-fated picture of her on the slide. Hannah met Jessica Davis and Alex Standall; they started going to Monet’s every day to get hot chocolate and whatever the hell Alex was drinking. The three of them had their falling out due to Alex’s stupid list. Hannah and Courtney Crimson found out that Tyler Down was Hannah’s stalker. Courtney painted Hannah as a lesbian to salvage her own reputation. Hannah went on a pretty crummy date with Marcus Cole, after which Zach tried to make things better, but it ended poorly for both Hannah and him.

The rest of it probably hasn’t happened yet, however. Now, I’m not entirely sure about whether Ryan Shaver’s tape happened, but the rest of it certainly hasn’t.

This means that Bryce Walker hadn’t raped Jessica, Sheri Holland hadn’t knocked over the stop sign that led to Jeff Atkins’s fatal car crash, Clay and Hannah hadn’t hooked up — resulting in Hannah being unable to show her true feelings for him out of past traumas, Bryce hadn’t raped Hannah yet, and Mr. Porter hadn’t told Hannah to just let go of what happened to her and act like it never happened.

Giving life one last chance. '13 Reasons Why' [Credit: Netflix]
Giving life one last chance. ’13 Reasons Why’ [Credit: Netflix]

But the biggest, most important takeaway from knowing this is that Hannah is still here. We still have the chance to help her and prevent this from happening. We can still save Hannah. There is still time.

When it comes to suicide, at any age, those closest to the victim wished they had seen the signs and had the time to stop it. This theme is very evident throughout the series, as every character wishes they had only known what could cause Hannah to want to end her life. As the show points out, it can be obvious that someone is depressed and looking to find a way to put an end to their pain (evident from both Hannah and Alex). However, it is difficult to see it in those closest to you, which is why everyone was so blindsided by what had happened.

The biggest message that the show is trying to push is that we don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives. We just have to be there for each other and support each other not matter what rumors we hear. There’s too much hate in the world, especially in high school. We need to overcome it and learn to appreciate each other for who we are.

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A worthy share for social media! Don’t forget to tag @GriffAmbitions

We often don’t know if someone is depressed, no matter how evident the signs may be. However, if we can be there for each other, we can prevent something like this from happening again. And, in the case of Hannah Baker, we can prevent it from happening altogether.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that Jay Asher’s original ending included Hannah Baker actually surviving her suicide attempt. This original ending was actually included in the 10th anniversary edition of the novel released last December. Which was coincidentally released mere months before the Netflix series aired.

Now I’m not saying that’s suspicious or anything, but maybe, just maybe, it was released around the same time as the Netflix series with the intent to continue the series for a second season – or maybe in another format altogether. Assuming the series does well (as most Netflix series do) and with this small little detail snuck in the finale, the creators could easily turn around and say that Hannah never did kill herself and instead give us a sequel following Hannah and company in a plotline in which she’s still alive.