I have to admit that I have started this post multiple times and struggled to find the right words. I did some Googling to make sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way while I watched. Turns out, there are a lot of people who have similar opinions of the series. It is a show I had to see from start to finish, but I struggled watching it. Often having to turn it off and come back to it a few hours later. I wanted to write this where I did not offend anyone, but at the same time I wanted to share that I had issues with this series.
Everyone was talking about it on Twitter praising the story line and the issue at hand, depression and suicide. I on the other hand was talking about it with my parents and friends about how much the story got wrong. I kept muttering to myself that no, that doesn’t happen. Or no, it is actually worse…..
Everyone deals with depression and suicide their own way. Another person cannot and should never compare their failures or pain to someone else. A person cannot belittle someones pain because they have had it worse. Depression is not something you can just get over or pretend it doesn’t exist. With that being said, 13 Reasons Why is a fictional story that tells a story of a high school girl who was depressed and believed suicide was her only option. Newsflash, this is something that happens in every single town. Depression is as common as a cold, but the way we whisper about it creates this stigma. Or worse, we get a bad grade in school or fight with a boyfriend and claim we are so depressed. It makes those who struggle with depression question what is wrong with us when we cannot just get over it like they did?
If you know me, you know my story. I won’t go into many details because it is a bit more personal than I would like to share on the internet, but I think it is important that I share that I too have struggled with depression. And this isn’t the my boyfriend broke up with me depression. This is the haven’t left my bed in a week and stopped going to college classes type of depression. It took a lot for me to get to that point in my life. A few years in the making. A lot of bad things happened to me, but I kept saying I was fine. But when I got to that point of depression, it felt like it happened overnight. I constantly felt like I was drowning. My body felt physical pressure suffocating me whenever I tried to leave my bed. Luckily, a friend saw me on campus looking horrible one day and came up to me and asked to get a cup of coffee. My body wanted to say no, but my brain said I needed this.
I spent a few months in therapy and my friend who asked me to get coffee was my rock during that difficult year. We would make daily plans to get lunch or just sit in Starbucks, but actually it was a reason for me to get out of the house. My friend knew what to say, knew how to listen, and when she needed someone, I was already there. I was able to work with my teachers and pass all of my classes with A’s. Still no idea how I pulled that off in the end.
A few weeks into therapy, I was able to accept I had depression. It wasn’t a death sentence, it was something I had to work through. I found people in my classes who also had depression and we would find ways to laugh about how difficult it was to get out of bed because at one point in our lives, it wasn’t a problem. I learned how to say that I had depression out loud and didn’t need to rely on a therapist much anymore. I had the support system around me that I needed. A simple text saying I had a bad day and I would get a simple reply validating my sadness without someone trying to solve my problems. If a friend showed up to class looking disheveled, I would give them a shy smile letting them know that I understood. And maybe tomorrow would be better.
While I was able to accept my sadness, that didn’t mean it went away. I still was dealing with personal and family issues that continued to bring me down that rabbit hole. I had nightmares nightly reliving a traumatic experience that had happened a few months earlier and I would wake up screaming. Just because my life was falling apart on the inside, the rest of the world didn’t stop with it. I had five classes, a job, community service and running a community service site. Staying busy is what gave me purpose during the day. But hell, it was hard to get out of that bed to start a day that started at 9am and I wouldn’t get home until midnight.
In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah shows up to school everyday in jeans, a cute outfit and lip gloss including clean hair. Anyone who has struggled through depression knows that school absences, leggings and baggy sweatshirts, and a drained face is the look of the type of depression Hannah had. I kept muttering no one with her type of depression looks that good.
This is a story that simplifies depression. Hannah claimed she had no friends, had rumors spread about her and did suffer through traumatic situations. We are all affected by what happens to us. Life is unfair, hurtful and can leave scars on us forever. But I was discouraged when Hannah was bullied and went through sexual assault, the story did not talk about her mental health much. She would mention casually how much these experiences affected her, but someone who knows the signs, I didn’t see that on camera.
It also simplifies suicide. Hannah’s suicide was planned in advanced. Her suicide was to make others feel guilty, instead of focusing on Hannah’s emotions and thoughts. There is no one cause of suicide. When someone commits suicide, the question lingers of why. It is never one persons fault, one situations fault, it is usually a buildup of many things that lead someone to that point. Hannah blamed her friends for not being there for her, or bullying her that caused her to choose suicide. But I learned in college, no one will be there if you don’t ask for it. And you can ask for it, and get no answer. It just means you may need to look elsewhere for help. I lost a lot of friends in college when I no longer was the fun friend. I am sure they thought I was boring and had too much baggage. It hurt my feelings, but I looked elsewhere for support and found my real friends.
Bullying is not a single reason for suicide. There are many other reasons out there. Suicide is often causes when there is no more hope in your life. When every single door is shut in your face and you have no more options. I have a handful of friends who chose to end their lives, and it was not just because of bullying. When a persons mental health becomes so bad, the light is gone, there is no more glimmer of hope, and there is physical pain.
Hannah looked selfish when she killed herself. Leaving her parents in an unending sadness and creating pain around her. Hannah records tapes to tell on the people her hurt her. Very little help they can do when she is gone… She thought the only way for her voice to be heard was to release tapes after she was gone making her a hero for exposing the truth in the school. We need to notice and stand up to bullying while we see it happening, not after it causes harm. Hannah was happy to expose the people around her. But this selfish look at suicide does more harm than good in the end.
Are you bullied only if you have to resort to suicide? Immediately I noticed the bullying theme in the story. I started to roll my eyes because of the way the characters reacted to the bullying. I didn’t like how the story used the theme of bullying to be the reason for her suicide. In the sixth grade I received a note with a death threat in it. I was a confused kid hurt and not sure what to do with it, but I eventually showed it to my mom a few days later. We went to the school and the school did nothing about it because there was no proof who wrote it. I could tell from the handwriting who it was from. We immediately started to look at other middle schools for me to go to. And I still have the note. I was pushed to the ground, had people leave the table I was sitting at in the cafeteria because it was funny to watch me look confused as everyone left. I was called nicknames, even teachers encouraged students to talk about my personal life during class. A teacher encouraged students to ask questions about my adoption asking if Rosie was given to me by my parents now or my birth parents among other inappropriate questions. After we complained to the school about that and nothing was done, within a month I was enrolled in a new middle school.
Bullying happens. I have been bullied. I have bullied. But this story devalues bullying experiences because not all bullying leads to suicide. Some people don’t mind it or can just brush it off and live through it, and others like me switch schools. Depression and mental illness is what causes suicide. Not once is depression mentioned in the story. Not once does Hannah show signs of depression. It gives viewers who may be depressed think there is something wrong with them if they don’t look how depression looked in the series.
In college I had to tell my teachers I was struggling with depression and was seeking proper help. I had my teachers bend over backwards to give me extensions on assignments, allowed absences for classes and I even had one teacher allow me to be on my phone in class as long as I was just there. I had one teacher take away a weekly assignment that was due on every Monday at the end of my Spring semester. I got A’s on the paper every time, so she said I would continue to get an A on them even if I didn’t do them. However, when I had one teacher give me a zero on an exam that I missed because my grandmother passed away, I went to another professor in the department. The other professors in the department confronted my teacher and I was given a make up exam. I had people around me who wanted me to succeed.
When Hannah reaches out to a school counselor no less, he tells her to find a way to move on. Do you know how much harm it is to show that is how depression is treated? My college professors didn’t know the details, they didn’t need them. However, they went out of their way for me to accommodate me in any way that they could. Teachers who I was close with who did know what was going on, would ask me how I was and would check in. It is law for a counselor to let a student walk away when they talk like the way Hannah did. Where were the parents? Not one student relies on an adult or parent for help. In middle school I refused to go to school on some days for fear of being bullied. In High School I would get sick because of the anxiety I had about going to school. I was afraid no one would talk to me all day.
I am sure the team behind the tv show felt it was important to show Hannah killing herself. However, to me it glamorizes the whole thing. It makes it look easy. She recorded her tapes, boxed them up, mailed them off and hopped in the tub. When a school community has someone who commits suicide, more usually happen around that time. When someone is in a bad place and sees someone find release, they ask themselves why can’t they find peace too. This part did more harm than good because it gives people ideas on how to do it.
If you are dealing with depression, no matter what degree, there is a way to live through it. I don’t think I will every get it over it 100%, but I find ways to continue living my life. I keep a busy work schedule so I am always busy with very little downtown.
If you need a friend, or someone to chat with, give me a call.
You can also go to your doctor or even the hospital offers recommendations of where to go for help. Don’t think life needs to be like this all the time. Happier days are on the horizon.