Point counter point:Is 13 Reasons Why worth the risk?

A debate over the effects of 2017’s most controversial show

The TV show adaptation of the book of the same title by Jay Asher has been making waves since it first came out as a thirteen-episode series for Netflix on March 31, 2017.

The show focuses on the story of Hannah Baker, a 10th grader who takes her own life. Her story is told through the main character Clay Jensen, as he listens to the thirteen tapes she left behind that feature one for each of the people she blames for her death.

The show has been applauded by some as a platform to open up the conversation about mental health but has raised concerns for teachers, administrators and psychologists worried about the message the show is going to send kids who don’t fully understand the concepts being portrayed.

For: 13 Reasons Why is the Push We Need to Increase Mental Health Resources

Depression, suicide and rape are all things that are alluded to in popular culture and television, but 13 Reasons Why is the first show to tackle these issues head on and that’s where it’s strength comes from.

It’s apparent when watching the show that the directors, actors and producers put a strong emphasis on making sure the issues tackled were shown and reacted to in earnest. Scenes that range from the painfully uncomfortable scenes of Bryce raping both Jessica and Hannah and the traumatic-to-watch scene of Hannah’s actual suicide give viewers a real-life depiction and more importantly, an understanding of what people like Hannah go through. All of these scenes were devastating to watch, but they were successful in portraying extremely lifelike realities and problems that teens and young adults face. It’s not pretty, but it’s real.

While mental health awareness and resources are growing year by year, suicide is still a very taboo topic. A show like this forces its watchers to critically analyze and understand the inner workings of young teens like Hannah who are going through these same things. That, in and of itself, will always be an asset in the world we live in today. 

Although they were introduced a month after the show’s release, Netflix added warnings to the show which highlight a hot-line for viewers affected by the story to call. While I can agree that they should have been there right from the beginning, the important thing is that the warnings are there at all.  Even though it could seem like a small addition, any little thing helps, and they could be the sign that helps someone struggling to get help.  

More understanding for the mental health needs of teenagers is what is going to help save the lives of people like Hannah Baker. Hannah was showing signs of needing help but because of the lack of training and understanding of her peers and her teachers, she did not get the help she needed. Opening people’s eyes to this problem is what can help make sure that those struggling get the help they need.

There’s no doubt that 13 Reasons Why is difficult to watch — the material covered is heartbreaking and potentially relatable to a lot of people — but when is the last time this many people were talking on such a big platform about mental health? 

Towns and schools around North America are hosting forums to have a safe space to discuss mental health and suicide and that is something incredible. 13 Reasons Why could be responsible for the push that is extremely needed to have teachers, students and parents understand the dire need for more mental health resources.

—Shivani Gonzalez, Lifestyle Editor

Against: 13 Reasons Why Not

Suicide is a difficult topic to discuss in any setting, let alone on a TV show whose audience is mainly impressionable teenagers. While I do believe that 13 Reasons Why certainly initiates the discussion of suicide, the show itself didn’t focus enough on other important topics like depression and mental health as well as it should have.

While bullying and the actions of Hannah’s peers are a strong contributing factor in her decision, we can’t forget that depression and mental health are also very prominent. That needs to be considered and taken into account when discussing suicide and there was very little consideration of actual mental health.

Throughout the course of the show, Hannah Baker blames 13 of her peers for her suicide, projecting that responsibility and fault onto them. Yes, some of them did terrible things that could have accelerated or caused her initial thoughts of suicide, but at the end of the day, Hannah was the only one with control over her suicide and the responsibility was her own.

For people who are already having suicidal thoughts, this show sends the misguided message that suicide is an option that allows you to “get back” at the people who wronged you, and that you can continue to live on through your revenge. It can also be perceived as a “how-to guide”, which can be dangerous because suicide portrayals in the media can sometimes have a copycat effect. With suicide being the second-highest cause of death for children and young adults aged 10-24, is copycat suicide a risk we are willing to take? Ultimately, the show is a romanticization of suicide.

Along with romanticization of suicide and risk of copycats, the biggest problem with this show is that it doesn’t truly teach people how to help those who are struggling with their mental health. The message delivered by the show is that you never know what someone else is going through so you should treat your peers with respect and kindness — an important message to focus on  — but what do you actually do to help a friend who is showing signs of depression or suicidal thoughts? The show gives the warning signs of what to look out for but doesn’t offer ways to actually help your friends and peers, which is something that needs to be included in a show dealing directly with suicide.  

Suicide is something that should be discussed and as a society we should be more open to talking about it. However, creating a show for teenagers about suicide is a tricky thing to do, and it needs to be done right to effectively communicate messages without glamorizing suicide. Unfortunately, for me, 13 Reasons Why doesn’t do a good enough job to be worth the risk of potential negative outcomes.

— Abbey Dudas, Contributor


13 Reasons Why, Netflix, suicide, Television

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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