13 Reasons Why – Suicide Prevention or Suicide Manual?

The latest show that is creating a lot of controversy internationally is Netflix’s original series – “13 Reasons Why”. It is about a high school girl who commits suicide, and leaves 13 audio tapes about the reasons why she did it. (No there is spoiler yet. This happens in the first episode).

The tapes are sent to the people who in some way or another have contributed to her suicide. There are serious issues shown in the show such as bullying, rape, cyber bullying, and of course suicide. The show is based on a book. The intent of the show was to create more awareness about suicide and the importance of being kind and sensitive to others. It sounds like a great idea. But I did not feel that the show manages to achieve this. I felt it glorifies, rationalizes, and justifies suicide.

1. First of all, nobody can call out from the grave. In the show, Hannah Baker reaches out to people after her death through the tapes. The very premise is unrealistic. The show supports the thought that once she commits suicide, people would sympathize with her and finally accept that they did her wrong. It is like a revenge strategy. The people who did her wrong in this case were her classmates. Why does the show make us believe that people will care about us after we are dead? Even if they do, does it really matter once we are gone? The only people who will suffer endlessly are parents, siblings, immediate family members, who do not deserve to suffer. The rest of the world (including classmates) may care for some time. Then they will forget and move on.

2. Hannah tries to get help from the school counselor who is not of much help. Why could she not reach out to her parents? Her parents are loving and do care for her. What kind of example is this setting? That there is no help whatsoever and suicide is the only logical option? I know that this does happen.People do not believe or support the rape / assault survivor or undermine the feelings of somebody who sounds depressed. But they could have shown her atleast put in some more effort to fix things for herself. That would have set a better example. How would assault / rape survivors / bullied teens feel after watching this show? That killing themselves is natural? Something that is expected of them?

3. Throughout the show, there are a bunch of high school kids keeping secrets in an attempt to “honour” their friendship. I found this very annoying. Some of them have supportive and approachable parents who keep asking them what is wrong. Still, none of them reach out to any responsible adults. It would have been more balanced if at least some character had sense of right and wrong.

4. I don’t even want to get into the graphic suicide scene.

5. The show puts the responsibility of Hannah’s suicide on so many of her classmates (not just the rapist) who received the tapes. “We all killed Hannah!” Does she ever mention her suicidal thoughts to anybody? Is she suffering from a mental illness? Sure, they could have behaved better with her. But were all they supposed to just know, and help her?

6. People who have appreciated the show have said that it will help start conversations on suicide, being such a tabooed topic. No, I don’t think we are still at that point in time where we should applaud each other just for initiating conversations. We should not have such low standards. We should work towards finding solutions, helpline options, feasible support groups.

Teen suicide is a very pertinent issues in the US. In India, so many students commit suicide because of academic pressure. Female celebrities have committed suicide after a break-up. Suicide is horrific and the biggest pain for the surviving family members. Recent live streaming of the video of a young man jumping to his death on a social networking site death was extremely disturbing. It was a call for help. But no help can be delivered after death.

Some people may be suffering from serious mental illnesses and their actions may not even be in their control. They need professional help.

The last thing people should be made to believe is that if they kill themselves, finally people who ignored and hurt them will realise they were in pain all along. And this would be their justice.

© 2017, Tanvi Sinha. All rights reserved.

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