“13 Reasons Why.”
The Selena Gomez – produced Netflix show that remade the YA fiction novel by the same name.
The topic? Teenage Suicide.
I didn’t want to watch it. Clearly, this is not a light subject matter, and not particularly something I wanted to watch alone in my studio apartment in New York. But given my affinity for Justin Bieber, and as a result, his first love, Selena Gomez, I wanted to see what she produced.
And well, after watching all 13 episodes in less than 48 hours, I have some thoughts. Strong ones.
Suicide is never the answer. It should never even be an option. Let’s get that right out of the way from the get-go. And if you are having suicidal thoughts, you should seek professional help. Call a crisis hotline. Talk to someone.
This show got it wrong.
As a survivor of a severe case of anorexia, this topic hits really close to home with me. Too close. During my disease, even though I never would have said, “I want to end my life,” the fact is, my actions communicated just that. I starved myself down to 78 pounds. Anorexia is a slow, drawn out suicide attempt. There. I said it. Whether you realize it or not, you are killing yourself, every day. Every meal you skip. Every calorie you burn. You are slowly and deliberately allowing yourself to waste away.
And there is nothing to glorify there. Nothing to romanticize. Nothing to slap a sepia filter on and call it “teen angst.” It is a form of mental illness; just like conditions that lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. And it should be treated and supervised by professionals.
The thing that made me the most upset about the show, aside from the appalling depiction of sheer ineptness by the guidance counselor, the glamorization of her death through an elaborate “riddle” of tapes left behind, and the depiction of control that creates, the thing that got to me the most was that these tapes – these 13 Reasons – blamed someone for it.
One of my biggest regrets, that I still live with to this day, is thinking that my loved ones blame themselves for my anorexia. Thinking that they were a contributing factor to my illness, or that they did or said something that triggered the development of the eating disorder. It has worn at my spirit that they could possibly blame themselves. And over and over and over, I’ve tried to communicate to them that it wasn’t their fault. Sure, tense words were said, and maybe sometimes the best decisions weren’t made, but the fact is, we all were just getting through it the best we could, the best we knew how.
No one is to blame for a suicide. I don’t care how “good” of a story line that creates.
Is it horrible that Hannah had to endure assault and bullying? Absolutely. But taking one’s life is not the only option out there. Where were those options in the plot line?
Finally, my heart absolutely shatters, to think about the impressionable teens who watch this series. Who, like myself, want to check it out because Selena Gomez is on the poster and take her word as “Gospel-ajacent.”
The act of taking one’s life stems from one thing: control. Regain control of a life that seems hopeless, and at a dead end. And the message that the storyline communicates – that Hannah was able to leave a legacy and communicate with her classmates and control them into solving her riddle – it glamorizes, belittles and negates the gravity and severity and finality of the act of suicide. It puts an air of “celebrity” on the devastating act that doesn’t leave people curious, it leaves them ruined. Suicide ruins the loved ones. Shatters them. Leaves them unable to pick up the pieces.
When a person takes their life, there is no more communicating with their friends afterwards. There is no seeing if they’ve solved the riddles or played the “game” by the rules, or done this or that. When a person takes their life, they are no longer alive. They are no more. And everyone is left to put the pieces back together, and fight the horrific guilt that they were to blame.
There is always another option. There is always a way out. No matter how bleak. There is always another option. It is my deepest prayer that if someone who is at risk, watches that series, that they don’t become enamored with the glitz and the notoriety Hannah received after her death. That they realize that there are people that they can reach out to for help. Guidance counselors are good people and, contrary to the depiction in the series, are well equipped and want to help.
But lastly, I pray that those at risk youth remember that they’re not alone. That they are loved so fiercely by their Heavenly Father, who wants to fight for them. And even though that might not seem like enough, it has the power to turn things around.
“13 Reasons Why” is negligent. It panders to the glorification of a tragedy that should never, ever be glossed over or trivialized or romanticized.
Hannah had a mental illness. And with proper care and guidance, her story could have ended a lot differently.
And I pray that for anyone watching it, they realize that too.
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