I do not typically like to make statements about anything unless I have spent some time doing my research. By research, I mean reading books, watching documentaries or shows, or literally researching on the subject I am currently trying to understand. I have just finished the second season of 13 Reasons Why and I watched these two seasons with caution, as I have struggled and still do struggle with my own mental illness. I have not actually read the book that the television series is based on, because I don’t want my stepdaughter to get ideas as she struggles with mental illness as well. Of course, she can still get the ideas from the television show, but our only TV is in the living room (next to our room), and thus makes it harder for her to watch the show without our knowing about it.
13 Reasons Why caused an uproar even before the first season was aired on Netflix. Many strongly felt the show can cause more harm than good, while others felt the television show was a great resource to start a dialogue. The intent to start a dialogue was what sparked my curiosity in the first place.
I do agree with Selena Gomez’s main idea: the dialogue about mental illness does need to take place for everyone to better understand that these are genuine diseases. Most people in countries across the world are scared to talk about this subject because these are sad and dark topics that have to be discussed. While most people are scared to talk about the subject of mental illness because they simply do not understand, think about the people who do suffer with mental illness—they are unable to cope with the emotions and/or traumas that come with their illness because they don’t understand it either and that is scary.
I do not agree with the show being the best source of starting a dialogue about mental illness. While it was not the book or the show’s intent, Hannah Baker’s use of 13 tapes can glamorize a sense of blame to be placed on others for those who are suicidal. The intent for these tapes was to emphasize that there are stories we do not get to hear from those who have succeeded in committing. That is the idea: everyone has a story. Hannah Baker struggled with depression, acceptance from her peers, was bullied harshly, and searched for love in all the wrong places. She describes every average teenager. In her tapes, she calls out thirteen people she feels held the most weight in her suffering. This is where the intent of the book and television show can easily be misconstrued. Hannah Baker’s intent was not to make those thirteen people feel awful, but to remind them that she has a story, too. Unfortunately, most teenagers (whom the book and television show was intended for) will not understand this, and suicidal teenagers will feel this is a great source to place blame on others for their pain.
The second season mostly takes place in the court room, between Olivia Baker and Liberty High School. The show highlights a good point: who will take ownership when a child is lost to suicide? Olivia Baker points her finger at the school, and the school points theirs at her. The idea here can be easily lost as well, unfortunately. Some people will say that Andrew and Olivia should have been more invested and should have done better to pick up on the signs that led to their daughter’s death. Others will say the school should have done more, such as listening the first time when Hannah called out for help (and she has done so twice). The idea here is parents, the school, the church, friends, and other people who are highly involved in that person’s life are to be on the same team. When something is not right, we all need to jump into action to keep someone struggling from falling farther away.
I became more concerned with the last half of the second season, as I easily called the direction the show took with character Tyler Downs. This choice took an uneasy journey of blending bullying, assault, and the beginnings of attempted premeditated murder. While I can see the connections on how all of this would take place, I abhorrently disagreed with how they handled this. The students have recently experienced a tragic experience of Hannah Baker committing suicide and they are within the midst of the stress and trauma that can come with court, the producers introduce Tyler as a would-be gunman that would shoot up his fellow students. I think this was done in poor taste, especially given the most recent circumstances of school shootings. While yes, students should offer help and compassion towards each other, especially when someone’s life seems to be spinning out of control. Clay’s attempt to disarm Tyler emphasizes the attempt of Walk Up not Walk Out a couple of months ago that I strongly believe would bring no change.
The last handful of gunmen who shot up the most recent school shootings do suffer from various kinds of mental illness, some of which are far different than the mental illness that Hannah Baker has struggled with. I feel the show took a giant leap towards sensationalism for the sake of television rather than really thinking through the poor message they were portraying. Tyler Downs did not suffer the same kind of mental illness as many of these gunmen from the recent school shootings—he suffered blatant bullying and isolation due to some poor decisions. This paints the picture that if kids are just nice to each other, then these kinds of things would not happen. The gunmen from the recent school shootings suffered from various illnesses such as anxiety, depression, personality disorder, and others. This is not to say that kids who experience bullying will not lash out, because the possibility is there. However, given with recent events, the production cast did a poor job in recognizing this and made Tyler out to be some monster given the situation he was in. The end of season two portrays a type of Walk Up scenario, which seems to save Tyler’s life. The problem with this in real life, had any of the previous gunmen had a friend to try to talk them down, would have most likely been killed and the results of the school shooting would have still been the same.
Discussion about mental illness is serious, and we all need to be educated about what to expect, what we may see, and how to address the problem and/or help the situation. This was what the show meant to do, and we as a society should talk about it openly. However, the show allowed sensationalism get in the way of what is most important.