13 reasons why… to NOT watch the new Netflix series
*Edit: I have recently learned that this series also has detailed depictions of rape and sexual assault (not just the suicide scene). I have warned against the suicide trigger, but want to add a warning for rape and assault triggers (warnings the show does not have beyond a blurb about graphic content).
I know the internet is saturated by articles and posts about the new Netflix series “13 reasons why,” and I know adding my two cents might make some eyes roll and cause some “ugh, THIS again” grumbles as you scroll through your social media, but I CANNOT keep silent. As a person with mental health issues, and as a person who has self-harmed and… yes… as a person who has attempted something life threatening (that’s a story for another day), I find this new series to be not only triggering, but also disgusting and a major disservice to anyone affected by mental illness.
Now, my disclaimer is that I have neither watched the series or read the book. My opinions are based on previews, plot summaries, and descriptions by those who have seen the series. I know that people who critique movies/shows they haven’t seen can come off as extremely unreliable and over biased (obviously), but I also strongly believe there is media that isn’t healthy to consume and that many times you can judge if it is healthy based on advertising, plot, themes, and reviews.
I will not watch this series. I will not trigger myself. I will not support something that takes away from TRUE mental health awareness. I will not fill my mind and heart with images that should NEVER be used for entertainment.
I am going to try my best to only address only what I do know and not pass judgement on what I don’t.
So here are 13 reasons why NOT to watch the series “13 Reasons Why”:
1. People don’t cause suicide
The plot of this series is a girl who leaves tape recordings to 13 people in her life who she feels contributed to her decision to end her life.
In reality, people don’t cause suicide. Mental illness causes suicide. Yeah, it’s true that people can be cruel and terrible sometimes, but suicidal thoughts and tendencies are not typical responses to cruelty, but rather a symptom of underlying mental illness. Illness that needs to be treated –not ignored.
Here is a great article that goes into more detail about this, and supports some of my later reasons.
2. Mental illness isn’t the focus
In the series, mental illness isn’t the main point of the plot. It isn’t even mentioned ONCE in the trailers or the series description. Those who have seen the show have reported that mental illness is ignored as a factor in the main character’s life.
Suicide awareness is not suicide awareness without mental health awareness.
3. People are people, not “reasons.”
Can you imagine being a teenager and receiving a note or recording from a recently deceased peer saying YOU were the reason they felt life wasn’t worth living?
I’m sorry, yes people can be cruel, but they’re still people. They’re still human beings with struggles and feelings and imperfections. And telling someone they’re the reason a classmate is dead would be insanely traumatic. Or telling them that if they had just “payed more attention” the classmate may have chosen life? No, that usually would not lead a person to have a deep soul searching self-assessment about changing their behaviors and becoming a better person. Instead they may be subject to PTSD. They may become angry with those who have mistreated them. They may decide to change, but feel they can never truly redeem themselves.
And it’s a lie. Because as I’ve already pointed out, people don’t cause suicide, mental illness does.
This plot device is not in the spirit of healing and positive change, but in the spirit of blame and even a hint of revenge.
4. Suicide is not romantic
I’ve read many times in several articles that this series romanticized the main character’s suicide. Now, since I have not seen the series I can neither confirm nor deny that. However I can say that the plot as presented through the trailers does seem to romanticize suicide. It presents suicide as a tool to enacting positive change. It anticipates to build up throughout the episodes until the “climax” when the girl’s suicide is shown on screen… which brings us to our next point.
5. Suicide depictions are not entertainment
Suicide is not poetic. It is not art. It is not expression. Suicide is the outcome of untreated mental illness or medication side effects. Just like cancer can kill, mental illness too, can kill. Watching someone waste away from cancer for the sake of entertainment would be sickening and inhumane. This is no different.
Yes, films and shows do often depict death, including death from cancer and death from suicide. But there are classy and even enriching ways to do it, and very NOT classy and even harmful ways to do it.
6. Filming and publishing a graphic and detailed depiction of suicide is not helpful, but actually harmful.
It’s triggering. It can be harmful to anyone who is currently contemplating suicide. It can be extremely upsetting and emotionally harmful to anyone who has had a loved one taken by suicide.
7. Being “heard” after death: suicide notes
The reality is people fill in the blanks themselves following the death of a loved one, things that help them cope. Suicide notes are rarely this extensive (13 audio recordings for 13 different people), and it is definitely not healthy to obsess over them.
8. Teen love cannot heal
Teen love, while chemically and emotionally powerful, is not the solution to loneliness or mental illness.
From what I’ve read of the plot, one of the boys who received tapes from the main character comes to the conclusion that if he had loved and payed more attention to his peer, she would have chosen life.
This isn’t true. Suicide isn’t biased towards single or not single. Mental illness exists in all relationship statuses. And a high school boyfriend can’t heal mental illness any more than he could miraculously heal a girl’s broken arm.
9. Triggers aren’t the same as causes
Back to the idea of bullies. Because people do cruel things. And those things do deeply effect others. And it’s very possible for the actions of a person to trigger someone’s mental illness. But that does not mean that person caused a suicide. Triggers are not causes. And this is a concept the general public does not always understand very well. This series is making that distinction even more fuzzy than it already is.
Oh, and on an unrelated note, “triggered” is not some fun new slang that describes something that makes you uncomfortable –it is a very real phenomenon that happens to those with mental illnesses and can be very dangerous and interrupt the healing process. It can cause anxiety and panic attacks, trauma flashbacks, and many other very real symptoms. (Maybe I ought to do a whole separate post about triggers).
10. Attention taken away from healing
Every moment a person spends consuming themselves with suicidal media is a moment they spend further away from thoughts of healing and hope.
Of course, everyone has agency. And it’s up to each individual to choose what they consume. But that doesn’t make offering more easily accessible suicide-glorifying options ok.
11. Suicide is not attention seeking
It is heartbreaking for a parent, spouse, child, friend, anyone who has lost someone to mental illness, to be told their loved one took their life to get attention. Self harm and suicide plans/attempts are NOT for attention. And the more society plays into that lie the less people with real illnesses will get the treatment they need.
You wouldn’t say someone who lost the battle to cancer was just “seeking attention.” Someone who lost the battle to mental illness wasn’t either.
12. Suicide does not belong in an exciting teen mystery
What first bothered me and stood out to me most about the trailers for this series was how it was set up like a murder mystery. Suicide is not nor should it ever be the exciting twist ending to a teen drama.
As I’ve already stated, suicide is not romantic. It is not the answer to making your voice heard. It is not thrilling or climactic.
If you want to spread suicide awareness or teach your children to recognize warnings, there are plenty of other sources that depict suicide in a much healthier way, showing real reactions and real behaviors (one example I can think of off the bat is “Dead Poet’s Society.” Not graphic. Not as triggering. Much closer to reality. And in the end enriching and uplifting).
13. It’s not true bullying awareness either
On the outside this series looks like an anti bullying campaign. But it’s really not. Or if they were trying to make it one, they didn’t do a very good job of it. True bullying reform comes from an understanding of what kindness looks like, not by shaming for negative behaviors (bullies are often struggling with their behavior because of their own underlying life struggles. Guilting them isn’t effective to positive change and can actually severely backfire). Furthermore the message that bullying causes suicide is incorrect and produces shame and guilt, not growth.
Bullying can trigger mental health episodes, but it doesn’t cause suicide. And sending the message that it does leaves no hope for redemption and positive change –because you cannot apologize and make amends with someone who is no longer there.
So while this could potentially be interpreted as anti bullying, it doesn’t handle the subject well and it actually sends harmful messages.
So those are my 13 reasons why I will not watch this series, why no one in my home will watch it, and why I will advocate tirelessly for healthy mental health awareness alternatives to this harmful and inaccurate show.
Now some of you may wonder, “ok, that may all be true, but I’m not at risk for being triggered. I’m not letting my kids watch, it’s just for me. And I am aware of mental health so what’s the harm in watching? I find it entertaining and I’m just in it for the drama of the unfolding story.”
My question to you would be: why?
Why would you want suicide-glorification to be the focal point of your choice in entertainment medium?
Why would you want to see suicide depicted graphically? How can that possibly enrich your life?
Why support a harmful and ignorant show for the sake of “teen drama” thrills?
The reality is there’s no GOOD reason why. It’s not accurate so it’s not awareness. It doesn’t advocate for those with mental illness. It’s not helpful anti-bullying material. The only reason “why” is simply entertainment… is that really worth all the harm it does?
Do what you want with your tv down time. I won’t judge (although I will be hurt). I’m sure it’s a well developed series –since it’s caused such a hype, it’s got to be. But be aware that I am angry. I, as a sufferer of mental illness, a person who has overcome self-harming and suicidal ideations, a person who spent much of her youth feeling lonely and who was bullied –I am angry with this series. I am straight up furious anyone thought it would be an ok thing to produce and publish. I am angry for myself, for my loved ones affected by the suicides of their loved ones, and for my loved ones who have traversed the painful suicidal symptoms of mental illness. I am angry for all the people in the world suffering from mental illnesses who are grossly misunderstood. I am angry that despite the progress our society has made in educating people about the TRUTH of mental illness, popular media can STILL come out with such a terribly ignorant and harmful form of so called “entertainment.”
I implore you, don’t support this by giving it your viewing time. And please please don’t buy into the lies this show is spreading. Please listen to the people around you who have actually been there and what they’re saying to you about mental illness. Don’t let this series tear down the hard work we’ve put into educating society about REAL mental illness. Please.