I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t acknowledge and address fully that May is Mental Health Awareness month. According to the most recent data by the World Health Organization (WHO), ONE IN FOUR people in the world will be affected by some form of mental or neurological disorder in their lives. This is a huuuuge number of lives touched, and this is just based on data that has been reported. Consider the individuals that choose not to disclose their illness for fear of judgment and stigma. Some individuals may not disclose for cultural reasons. Others may not because they may not have adequate access to treatment or care (#Resist). Just think about it….ONE in FOUR. Where are you right now and how many people are nearby? How many people do you work with? How many friends do you have? How many people are in your family?
I’ve alluded to my own struggles before, but now is a better time than ever to bare it all. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression since I was in the eighth grade. I have over 10 years of lived experience with mental illness and over 10 years of anecdotal proof to support how important it is to recognize your needs and do whatever you possibly can to meet them. I had my first anxiety attack in the 8th grade the morning of the Biology regents. My first experience with depression was when one of my friends ratted me out to the school social worker (thank you) who thought I was suicidal (I wasn’t, but thank you anyway). I will never ever EVER forget these experiences that began to shape my journey to finding my own sense of ‘okay’. If you’re reading this and struggling yourself, I promise you, although there are good days and bad days I am totally okay and you can be too!
The purpose of this post was not to address my own mental health journey but to actually talk about someone else’s– Hannah Baker’s. I’ve been asked a few times now about my thoughts/feelings on the popular Netflix series, adapted from the novel by Jay Asher, “13 Reasons Why”. If you’re not familiar with the series, it is about a teenage girl that commits suicide and leaves behind 13 cassette tapes to be listened to and passed on by figures in her life; each tape corresponds to one of the 13 reasons that she committed suicide. This character’s name is Hannah Baker. I recently was honored to be asked to be a part of a good friend’s project in which I was one of those interviewed to discuss the series. The following is an excerpt on what I had to offer, and what I would also like to share here, since it is Mental Health Awareness month and I have a lot of strong opinions and feelings on this particularly socially current topic.
I really love what I do and from both my educational background and my own lived experience I have a lot of strong feelings regarding “13 Reasons Why”. First, I need to express properly how critical it is to become educated about suicide and to talk about suicide. Suicide has this institutionalized stigma attached to it, where the individual struggling is perceived as weak. Because of this, he or she may be reluctant to seek help. If someone does seek help, it is important that people are aware of the suicide ‘red flags’. This, I think is the one positive of having the series depicted on Netflix. With the series on Netflix, an increasingly popular medium to watch television, someone with no background in Psychology or Social Work can learn to discuss suicide and/or learn the red flags without even realizing it. Take the school counselor, Mr. Porter, for example. Hannah gave all the warning signals (i.e. feeling “empty”, feeling like she didn’t care about anything, disclosing recent sexual abuse, to name only a few of these blatant signs). Even my mother, who works in mortgages, was screaming at the screen for Mr. Porter to hear Hannah’s cry for help and do something.
Even despite the little credit that I will give the show, I feel that more harm has been done that far outweighs the potential benefits. By the last few episodes of the show, a “trigger warning” is depicted on the screen before the episode starts. This is excellent and I was glad to see it included, however, by episode 8 or 9, the viewer is already invested. Not enough was done to protect the viewers that may have encountered sexual abuse in their lives. I feel this was really negligent on the producers’ part because they are leaving themselves open to having viewers retraumatized. Furthermore, I think that the show did not take into account long standing literature on the dangers of depicting suicide. Years of research into phenomena like “suicide contagion” or “copycat suicides” support the idea that depicting graphic suicide may be linked to an increase in suicidal ideation/intent/action. Based on this research, clear recommendation guidelines have been established for reporting on suicide in the media. Even in the book, it is only suggested that Hannah takes her life from an overdose. Intimate details are not given, and producers made the conscious choice to graphically depict a suicide by means that were not even true to the original fiction. It may seem that I am coming down harshly on the producers, but I have the receipts. These are facts and figures supported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and several published and peer-reviewed studies throughout several decades.
I feel like “13 Reasons Why”, in both the novel and the Netflix series, does glorify suicide. I won’t just pick on the Netflix version to explain this, because I acknowledge it about the book as well. The message that seems to be sent is one of revenge and seems to be very “they’ll feel sorry when I’m gone”. This does little to acknowledge the fact that suicide is permanent. It is only after Hannah is gone that you see the effects of her suicide on others. Although you see how difficult Hannah’s suicide is on her parents, one need only to consider the perspective of a teenage girl to see that the far louder message is that her peers would regret their words or actions to some degree after suicide is committed. But once it’s done, it’s done, and this was not fully acknowledged.
My biggest concern in watching the series is for those that identify with Hannah. I don’t want suicide to ever be seen as a viable option—because it is permanent and leaves a scar on everyone in its wake. There are no “do-overs” with suicide; it is a long-term solution for issues that can be mediated with the right help. It is a shame that, although we are finally talking openly about suicide, that it came with this cost– especially because turning the story into a Netflix series had so much promise. I will still watch “13 Reasons” Season 2 in hopes to see this promise turn into something more viable. The series has already gained a huge viewership, so much so that I almost have to believe that it is salvageable and can do some good…to think that it couldn’t would be paralyzing.
So there you have it, friends. My long-winded and wordy feelings on “13 Reasons Why”. I would like to thank my friend for allowing me to be a part of her work and for giving me another outlet to express myself on this! She’s a fellow writer and I dig her.
If you’ve managed to make it this far on this post, I dig you too. Before concluding, I want to touch on two more things (they’re worth it!).
When I was scrolling in social media land I came across two amazing Instagram accounts that I need to pass on and give some major credit to: @makedaisychains and @motivationaltattoos *
@makedaisychains is the artist and mental health activist behind the #boringselfcare movement, shining a light on all the simple things that can be done day to day that fall under self care and are little recognized! Her work is AMAZING and her Etsy is linked on her Insta.
@motivationaltattoos has a bunch of self care tips & gifts, including little temporary bandaid tattoos and pins that depict inspirational messages like “believe in yourself”, “you are worth it”, “love yourself”, and my personal favorite, “treat yourself”! Etsy page is also linked on Insta.
Thanks for reading & please feel free to reach out! Happy Mental Health Awareness month!
*This is not an ad, I was not asked by anyone to write anything about these accounts. They are just pure unadulterated awesome that I could not, in good conscience, keep to myself.