What could be more relevant to today’s teen community than a television show about a depressed teenaged girl who takes her own life? Sadly, not much.
Based on the novel by Jay Asher, “13 Reasons Why” is about a teenager, Hannah, who dies by suicide, leaving behind a box of recorded tapes. On each tape, Hannah explains one reason why she killed herself. Each reason is related to people who betrayed her trust in some way.
Through this new Netflix phenomenon, teens are watching a girl being bullied, harassed and violently attacked, and then they watch her slit her wrists.
I watched “13 Reasons Why” thinking, “Great, another sob story where I’ll cry every five minutes.” Instead, I felt angry, frustrated and disgusted that Hannah was treated the way she was. So many people heard and saw what was happening to her, yet did nothing.
I thought, “Why don’t Hannah’s classmates do anything? Why do so many people seem intent on hurting her?” However, I think I was also trying to reassure myself. I want to believe that I would stand up for someone in Hannah’s situation, but we don’t know what we’ll do until the situation arises. And I think that a lot of people would turn away.
While “13 Reasons Why” does make me upset and angry, the show brings attention to important issues: depression, suicide and sexual assault.
It makes you stop and process what you see every day in the hallway, what you hear on the bus and what you say about people when they’re not in the room. You start to think about your school, what happens there and how people are treated.
“I believe it has a great message,” said Madison Lefever, a sophomore at Peninsula High School. “People don’t want to talk about suicide and rape, but we need to start being more open about the two subjects.”
Not everyone shares this opinion.
“I don’t really think that ‘13 Reasons Why’ showed the truth behind suicide and depression,” said sophomore Aurora Ilacqua. “The people who are depressed or cut don’t do it for attention and it makes them feel worse when people say that.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Washington teens 15 to 19 years old, according to the 2016 Washington Healthy Youth Survey, and rates are increasing. In 2006, 15 percent of sophomores considered suicide. By 2016, that number climbed to 21 percent. The number of seniors who were thinking about taking their life leapt from 12 percent to 20 percent. In 2016, 13 percent of eighth-graders, 17 percent of 10th-graders and 16 percent of 12th-graders made a suicide plan. More than half of them went through with it.
The Peninsula School District sent a letter to families talking about the show and how to tell if a child or their peers are depressed.
“The way suicide is presented in the series goes against all established media guidelines meant to decrease the likelihood of copycat cases,” the letter said. “The suicide is presented as a quasi-rational response to the behavior of others, even glorified and romanticized with memorials and melodramatic responses.”
The letter reassured parents that talking to their children about suicide would not plant the seed. In fact, it lets children know that parents are there for them. Many teenagers who are feeling suicidal feel like they have no one to turn to.
No one notices how Hannah is feeling. None of the students at Hannah’s school help her and the adults in her life appear oblivious to her problems. But although the show portrays an apathetic community, the world is full of people who care.
“13 Reasons Why” has good and bad qualities. I think it spreads the message of how suicide hurts so many people besides the victim. Family, friends, the community—everyone is affected. You can’t experience something like this without being touched in some way.
Maybe that’s because I know people who hurt themselves, or who want to or have tried.
Hopefully, adults and teens alike will start thinking about what they say and do to each other. People who are feeling down think that no one cares about them. Showing them that someone does care can mean a lot.
Lilli Roberts is a Peninsula Outlook reporter who just completed her freshman year. She lives in Lakebay. To read her complete article, go to www.phsoutlook.com. Reprinted with permission
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