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*Preliminary warning: This article will address issues in relation to suicide and mental illness. If you think you may find this difficult to read, look after yourself and do what is best for your health.*
It's the hottest thing to watch on Netflix, the rave on social media, and the most common conversation starter amongst the youth; Thirteen Reasons Why. There is no doubt you have already heard of it, or watched it yourself.
If you have been living in a cave this past year, then here is a brief overview of what it's about.
Netflix released a show which claims to have the motive of raising awareness for mental illness. It is based on a girl, called Hannah Baker, who commits suicide (which is very graphically shown) and she leaves thirteen tapes behind as a message to the people who were 'to blame' for how her life fell apart. Hannah Baker talks on her tapes about her friends who left her, a guy who never loved her the way she wanted, her counselor who failed her, bullies in school, and a boy who raped her. Her unfortunate situations are common issues faced in today's society, in order to raise awareness for suicide and mental illness.
I can understand how in today's society, you could be thinking, 'This is just what people need to be watching,' however, mental illness is a lot more complex than people realise, and this show is one which I don't believe has been thought through entirely, nor sensitively, before it's launch. Therapists and psychologists are split on whether the show is beneficial or detrimental, many swaying towards the latter, and yet due to the popularity the show, Netflix has proudly dumped a second season, throwing fuel into an uncontrolled fire in an overpopulated area.
The show, ultimately, effects different people in different ways—all of which need to be seriously considered. For those it can impact positively, it is not worth it when weighed up with how badly others may respond. Here are the three main ways in which the show may impact a person.
The Effects on a Person with Little Experience or Knowledge of Mental Illness
This is the one scenario in which the show may be useful. To those who cannot understand mental illness or have not seen it beyond surface level, it can help provide more knowledge on the issue. For example, when a friend who always seems happy admits to suffering from depression the idea formed is that depression is nothing serious, or on the contrary, the show breaks down the stigma associated with varying illnesses. It also helps a person to identify warning signs and know how they can help a suffering family member or friend.
On the flipside, Thirteen Reasons Why, can become watched and raved about for all the wrong reasons.
"I loved that show."
"It was amazing."
"You haven't watched it? It's so good you have to."
The show glorifies suicide, hardship, and illness and transforms it into entertainment for young people. This is one of my main issues with the show. People, who have no idea of the immense suffering and torment that mental illness can cause, are sitting down with bowls of popcorn, and watching it as a means of entertainment on their Friday night in. They are watching a girl whose life begins to fall apart to the point where she is sitting in a bathtub, bleeding to death as she digs into her forearms with a razor blade to give them something 'enjoyable' or 'relaxing' to wind down to at the end of the day. This is not a fictional tearjerker that should be used as an excuse to eat junk food and cuddle your boyfriend—it's somebody's life on your screen and it's happening over and over again all around you.
The next time you say that you enjoyed the show, think twice. As a person who has been on a long battle with her mental health, I can say firsthand that walking into school the first few months after the show was released was horrendous. When someone clueless turns to you and says "I really enjoyed the show," it's a punch in the gut, because
- 1) It is as though that person is saying they had a good time watching something that you firsthand have to fight with every day and tears you apart.
- And 2), It hurts because that person clearly learnt nothing, when they can still see you every day and be just as clueless to what you are enduring. The series in no way transformed the social dynamic within school and how people treat each other—so it's purpose was not fulfilled.
These are the fans of the show that use it for their gain because on a silver platter they have been given a long list of ways they can manipulate and twist their situation into something that replicates the show—solely because Thirteen Reasons Why glorifies the hardship that is put on screen. For example, through Hannah's death the show provides a solution for those who feel alone or as though they do not get enough attention to feel better about themselves—through claiming to have a mental illness.
I can understand how what I am saying may come across as harsh, and I do not recommend anyone dismissing a person's issues on this basis solely because you should never jump to conclusions about a person or you could end up making a serious mistake that can't be fixed. However, time and time again I have seen this happening. It was no coincidence to me when the number of people talking about how suicidal they were feeling spiked immediately after the launch of the show on Netflix. Many of these people were not suicidal at all, which I can say as fact rather than my own individual judgment or opinion on the person. People talked about their desire or 'attempt' to commit suicide, all of which for some odd reason, strongly replicated the exact scene from season one.
This can be damaging to the people who actually need help and are struggling to open up about it because they have to endure listening to people with no real intention sob to classmates and spread it around schools that they are suicidal for their own gain in attention. For someone with low self-esteem or anxiety, to speak about their pain is then tainted as being "attention seeking," and so they slip back into their own world of downhill torment.
If you know someone who you feel is not being serious about being suicid, I recommend that you do not dismiss what they are saying to you and that you should still take it seriously and get them professional help immediately. You can never be sure.
The Person Suffering Mental Illness
The irony of this show would be amusing if it wasn't such a serious and dangerous matter.
Thirteen Reasons Why is a show to raise awareness for suicide and depression, but ultimately causes further damage to people with those very issues.
It makes those who are struggling to become worse and those who are improving to relapse. It is a show that I believe should not be watched by those who struggle with the same issues displayed through the series. It's also not just my opinion, but one which is backed up by a heck load of psychologists.
For starters, no episode simulates positive feelings of hope, support or healing, but rather it focuses on everything that went wrong in Hannah Baker's life which resulted in her suicide. Because of this, people who can empathise with the characters find themselves pulled into the show because suddenly they aren't alone in their pain. They can see someone else suffering the same things from the outside, and can say, "That is exactly how I feel." Sounds good, right?
But then, these characters, that we form bonds with subconsciously because we personally relate to them in our agony, dissolve away in their pain. They can't cope and they fall apart. More suicide, aggression, and drug and alcohol abuse. There is no happy ending, and for a person continuously searching desperately for a shred of hope in their pain to watch this—it could be too much.
Let's take Hannah Baker for example. Her life became a mess, to the point where suicide was the answer she could see, so she took it. To a person who suffered what Hannah suffered, or worse—to them, this could be their answer too. Believe me when I say that this is not speculation, but firsthand experience. I watched the first season, even though I knew very well as each episode passed that it was dragging me down, pulling up old pain and memories. I specifically remember, when the episode ended where Hannah died, being angry; so hurt and so angry.
Because I was jealous.
I was jealous Hannah got to die, and that I felt like I couldn't because there were people that I would hurt. I was jealous that Hannah had it easier in some ways, but she got to exit life at her own will, when I felt it should be me who should be able to. I wanted, so badly, to be able to do what Hannah did, but because I knew that I couldn't, I had no hope for changing and healing. Instead, I became aggressive towards people, shutting them off and losing my temper. I felt like it was justified because it was what she did. I became bitter and untrusting of people because of the overly dramatized show, which made me believe that school is even worse than I already saw it.
It made me believe that no adult really cared, and that friends could not help me or even be trusted.
I didn't care anymore to try and get better because I had watched such a cool, kind person go through the works and die anyway. How could someone like me get better if she couldn't? These are the thoughts that the producers of the show have put into the minds of the people they are apparently trying to help.
This is not just a solitary mindset that the show has given me, but a common and damaging issue that it has introduced to its watchers. Even more so, season two (which I have not yet fully watched) is said to be even worse, with Facebook status's and Twitter feeds firing up, countlessly warning people to avoid watching it, and in particular episode thirteen due to highly graphic content which is said to be highly inappropriate for anybody to watch.
A Note to the People Who Watch it Anyway
(Thanks for listening to all the warnings, it means a lot.)
I understand that regardless of what I say, there are people who will still choose to watch the show, so this is all I want to say to you.
- Before you wrap yourself up in blankets with a box of tissues and a bucket of ice-cream, I recommend that you take very seriously what you are watching.
- Use it to learn from, not as entertainment. Research warning signs and how people are affected in different situations. Watch carefully where people go wrong or right.
- When talking about the show it should be done in a much more sensitive tone, because you never know if you are giving your opinion on another person's life right to them.
- Do not watch it alone, or ensure there is someone near you to talk to.
- If negative feelings do arise, ensure you share these with others and seek help.
- If you suffer from issues which are shown on-screen, consider very carefully whether you feel the show is dragging you down. Monitor your mood changes, and consider if it would be best to not watch the show. This is a difficult choice, to pull yourself from the show when you feel you can relate to it, but it can suck you into something you have fought hard to escape.
- If you feel the show may be detrimental to someone else, let them know that maybe they shouldn't watch it.
I know my opinion is very contrary to the majority of the people who watch the show, however;
I hope that you may be able to see just where I am coming from with this. I have, generally speaking, an open mind. However, in regards to this show, I can first hand say that it is not suitable for most people, if not everyone, due to the effects I have witnessed it have on people who are sensitive to the particular subject. With mental illness on the rise, and statistics at nearly 50 percent of all people having an encounter with it at some point in their lives, there are many suffering from the repercussions of the show, so consider whether or not it deserves your support in watching.
Nevertheless, this mindset that the show has implemented into the impressionable minds of teenagers is doing far more damage than it is doing good—particularly to the group it claims to be trying to help.
A Netflix show will not better your judgment, nor will it heal you. If you really want to help others, get advice from professionals, read books, and research online. Taking a basic counseling course can cost less than your Netflix subscription, and fewer hours than watching two seasons. Don't claim the show 'beneficial' in helping others as an excuse to watch it, because it could not be further from the truth.
If you feel this article addressed an important point, share the link around—I know that I firmly think this is something that more people need to hear and consider before watching the show.
If you are struggling with mental illness, or any form of dilemma which is weighing you down—get help immediately. You are important, and you are worth it. You never know how it could turn your life around—take it from someone who knows.
Talk to close friends and family, and reach out for professional help. You can do this by calling into your local GP/ hospital who will refer you, or call a helpline.
All the best,