Written by Cher Valentine

[Trigger warning: mention of suicide, sexual assault]

13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s 2007 novel of the same name, tells the story of why 16 year old Hannah Baker decides to end her own life. The plot comes with an ongoing twist in the way when she chooses to provide closure to her loved ones. Before Hannah commits suicide, she records 13 cassette tapes to leave behind; each tape illustrates a story and overall reason why her life fell out of control and eventually was ended. Most of the individuals on Hannah’s cassette tapes are completely aware of what they did to deserve being on the tapes except for Clay Jensen, who is more than confused as to what he might’ve done to hurt Hannah Baker.

The use of audio cassettes may feel impractical in the era of smartphones, and the way Hannah posthumously circulates the tapes is sure to cause disbelief, so it’s crucial to form a connection to her. Katherine Langford, the new coming actress that portrays Hannah, helps the audience understand the character in the seemingly effortless way she portrays Hannah’s dual realities: on the outside she seems to be experiencing common teenage problems, but once you look closer her growing hopelessness becomes obvious. Langford shows us depression as a condition that is easy to miss or not notice as a friend of a suicidal person if you’re not paying attention to their feelings and actions. In the hormonal battles of high school, with teens becoming very stressed out and often feeling isolated, it’s hard to appreciate the lives of others from within our own preoccupations.

The Netflix adaption of this novel contains graphic content and is highly realistic in its portrayal of hard topics such as, suicide, sexual assault, domestic violence, and slut-shaming; this has become a heavily critiqued feature of the show, due to its triggering effect on young adults. Critics feel that a show targeted towards teenagers in high school should have be more aware of how their scenes could affect victims of said actions. The 13-episode series does not hold back with the content surrounding the series’ graphic portrayals of these issues, and it is recommended that those who have a history with these themes take caution in watching the series, as certain images have been found to be highly triggering. I had to stop watching the show for a full day after seeing a few of the more intense scenes and others I have spoken to have said that they legitimately felt sick from watching the show, proving that it does not hold back. On one side that can be good, as the show wants to bring awareness and show that situations such as rape and suicide can actually happen; but the target generation understands that and can become triggered from being shown visuals of situations they may have already experienced.

13 Reasons Why helps bring light to the serious mental health conditions teenagers live with, especially during the depressingly awkward developmental stage that occurs in high school. High schoolers are often considered dramatic and short-sighted, making the seriousness of their issues go unnoticed or ignored by friends, parents, and even those that are supposed to help. The show reminds the audience of the hopelessness that high schoolers can sometimes feel and the mental health problems that can make this pubescent stage in life even more difficult. However, the show does not glorify suicide or portray depression as glamorous in any way. It clearly sends a message that no one should resort to that route, and simply reminds us of the repercussions of our actions when we choose to bully, reject, or neglect a person in need of help. It serves to remind a young adult audience that it is impossible to always understand what another person is going through mentally, so treating everyone with the kindness they deserve should be given.

The show depicts just how hurtful teenagers can be and as Hannah says, the internet makes everything exceedingly deficient. Cyberbullying and Facebook posts are a pivotal player in the show and the posts Hannah’s peers put online are a major factor in her death. Cyber-bullying among teens is common and usually not reported. 13 Reasons Why almost perfectly shows how lack of communication between parents and children can lead to a child feeling alone and turning to suicide as an option.

When it comes to suicide at any age, people closest to the victim often wish they had seen the signs in time to stop it. This theme is completely evident throughout the entire series, as every character wishes they had known what could cause Hannah’s suicide. The show continues to point out that, sometimes, it can be obvious when someone is depressed and looking to find a way to end their pain. Other times it is extremely difficult to see it, especially with those closest to you; which is why everyone in the show becomes blindsided by what had happened.

The message 13 Reasons Why shares is that no one can ever know what's going on in someone else’s life. That we have to be there for our peers and anyone else that may need help. That we must support one another no matter what rumors we may hear. There's too much hate in the world, especially in high school. We need to overcome it and learn to appreciate everyone for who they are. 13 Reasons Why is a great way to start crucial conversations about mental health and bullying; it is starting a movement that teenagers have been trying to initiate for years. And, just like teenagers, the shows flaws make it real.