Thursday, 25 May 2017

13 Reasons Why: My Thoughts As A Mental Health Sufferer

*Contains Spoilers*

If you're unfamiliar with 13 Reasons Why then A)where have you been for the last few weeks?! and B) allow me to briefly sum it up for you...

13 Reasons Why is the latest "Must See" #BingeWatch show to grace Netflix and it is HUGE.

 It's the talk of social media, and is well on its way to becoming Netflix' most successful show to date.

 It centres around Hannah Baker - a high school girl who has recently committed suicide.
At the beginning of the series, we have no idea why this has happened. And then, through the medium of recorded cassette tapes that Hannah left behind for the people who had wronged her, we spend the series slowly finding out her reasons...reliving the last months of Hannah's life through her eyes as her closest friend and love interest Clay takes his turn to discover the many secrets that the tapes hold.

We journey through the tapes with Clay, as Hannah talks us through every experience step by step as her life begins to unravel - until finally we reach the last tape, recorded on the last day of her life and we discover what finally drove her to end it all.

You're probably thinking that this doesn't sound like light viewing, and you'd be right.

As someone who has struggled with mental health problems myself, and spoken openly about suicidal feelings before - I felt intrigued by the discussion that this series has started both in the press and among the viewing public.

Some have praised the show for its depiction of suicide and mental health problems among teens, others accused it of glamorising suicide and posing a risk to impressionable young audiences.

This was something that concerned me, and I wanted to be able to form my own opinion on how well the show handled it all.

I started watching a few days after the show dropped on Netflix, and so had already heard a lot of social media buzz about it - I was geared up for something intense and I have to admit, the first few episodes left me feeling confused about how this seemingly run of the mill teen drama had managed to capture the attention of so many and create a world wide debate on how issues like suicide should be handled in the media.

But never one to allow myself to judge too quickly, I persevered on with the episodes - and when I reached episode 5, things finally started to move at a much faster pace.

I found myself sucked in - completely invested in Hannah and the many other characters we meet throughout the series, and shocked by each twist and turn along the way.

There were scenes that I found difficult to watch - the rape of an intoxicated Jessica by her boyfriends best friend as her boyfriend sat outside the door knowing exactly what was happening but doing nothing to stop it, the graphic violence against Clay by the same completely detestable character and - possibly worst of all - the eventual rape of Hannah Baker herself by the same kid. That particular scene was probably the most uncomfortable viewing I've ever known.

I knew that the suicide was coming next - and to try and prepare myself for it I read as much about it as I could. I knew that it was going to be graphic, I knew that it was going to be difficult to watch....and I thought I was prepared for it.

My reaction took me by surprise.

I don't really know what I expected from that scene, but what I saw was not it - despite having been warned of the graphic nature it still managed to shock me. And despite knowing that it would probably upset me, I found myself sobbing in absolute devastation for the duration of the scene, the rest of the episode and most of the evening afterwards - I don't recall ever having been so affected by the death of a TV character.

As silly as it sounds, one thing that really struck me was the complete absence of Hannah's voice as narrator following that scene. It was so final. Although we knew from the opening words of the show that she was dead, we were used to hearing her voice on the tapes so it felt as though she was still around....but after this scene, that was it. She was gone.

And how ridiculous is it that this upset me? Of course she was gone! She was dead! There were no more tapes. I knew this was coming. But somehow, it just felt so real and so awful.

The word "triggering" has been used a lot in regards to this show, and up until seeing that scene I didn't really consider myself to be somebody who was likely to feel "triggered" by anything like this - but I felt something during that scene I've never really felt before, and I still can't quite put my finger on it even 3 days later.

I felt disturbed, I felt anxious,I felt guilty, I felt scared and I felt incredibly sad. For Hannah and for the millions of people she represents, and for me too.

After seeing the final episode, I found myself struggling to form an opinion on how well the show handled the suicide scene  - part of me worried that it was so graphic it was almost a "How To".

And part of me was aware that this was an attempt to UN-glamorise suicide and show the pain and horror of how it truly looks. And that, for those reasons, it probably showed exactly what it needed to.

Do I think the show has done any good for mental health sufferers and to raise awareness of suicide?

I can't be sure, but I do believe that anything that gets people talking about these things in such huge numbers can only be a good thing.

Do I still have concerns about how angst-ridden teenagers with an axe to grind will respond to it? Yes.

As a former angsty teen with a school full of people I'd have liked to have "made sorry" for their treatment of me, I am certain that this show would have given me fourteen year old me fantasies of re-enactment at the very least.

I think it's a show that needs to be watched with caution if you have personal experience with the subject matter involved, and one that should be shown to young people with guidance - I'm sure many would be absolutely fine with it, but it depends very much on the type of teen you're talking about and - as this show teaches us - even as parents we don't always know what's going on inside their heads, even when we think we do.

But do I think it's a show worth watching? Absolutely.

The acting is honestly some of the most impressive I have EVER seen. The thought that has gone into each scene from a directors perspective is outstanding. And even down to the music choices (I shazam-ed tracks in most episodes to download them!), it is stunning and flawless (Although, I have to say, I didn't quite get the use of  Ultravox's Vienna in Hannah's final scenes!? If I'm missing something here, can somebody please enlighten me?!)

And despite it's undeniable sadness, the overall message of the show is that kindness counts - and can literally save a life. And that's a lesson that is surely always welcome.

If you've watched 13 Reasons Why, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it! 

If you haven't, is it something you'll be watching?

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  1. Love this post, Hayley. I wasn't expecting to feel affected by the final scenes either, as I usually ride through these things fine, especially when I know what's coming. But I felt all sorts of things watching that scene, for her, for her parents...for myself in a weird way?! You are right that it feels very final when you don't hear her voice after that, I hadn't really thought about it that way. It is excellent TV, purely from a storytelling point of view, but the more I've had time to think about it, the more I remember small details, the more I feel it was lacking on the awareness front - eg, why was it OK to have Skye saying she cuts herself as a way of NOT killing herself, never to expand on that? Almost as if the show creator's are OK of endorsing self harm as a way of coping...which I didn't like at all.

  2. I have been thinking about writing something similar to this. I thought, although horrific, it is a must-see. It completely changed how I view things and how much we have no idea what is going on with people. Some people tested as she was would have been fine. But mental illness is invisible so you really never know. Plus, it's still so relevant. Both my husband and I had fellow students commit suicide when we were in school. Fr what we see in the media it is happening more and more nowadays. So for teens to understand that it is a very real thing will make a difference. Sorry for the essay, but it did really get me thinking! X

  3. I can't talk about this from the perspective of someone with any direct experience of mental health problems. But I have seen the show and I have actually really found it addictive viewing.

    Like you, I found myself incredibly affected by the suicide scene and the finality of it all. It was moving, disturbing and very upsetting.

    I can see why the show has attracted critics. And I do see why people think it potentially glamourises suicide - giving this character the chance to tell her story and make her point after the event. But I think the nature of the suicide scene and the fact we don't hear her voice afterwards makes clear the fact this is a full, final act and one that is anything BUT glamourous.

    I'm in agreement with you on this one - thousands upon thousands of people addressing the issues of bullying, mental health and suicide has to be positive.

  4. I found the show has left a lasting impression on me. I had heard that the episodes got really dark fro episode 8 onwards, but I didn't find that. I found the scenes uncomfortable but not too harrowing. I thought it was handled well. I absolutely hate seeing people cutting their wrists and I had to leave the room during her suicide scene, but I know it was graphic from what my husband said. I understand that there is some uproar with this series and I totally understand why. Some parents are letting their kids watch it way too young but I think for the right age range, it's done a fantastic job of bringing up these issues. High school is hard! x @whathannahdidnext (I haven't removed my old google ID!)

  5. I haven't watched the show, but I have read the book. I think the book is slightly different as Hannah wasn't raped but allowed herself to be taken advantage of sexually, so that she had one more thing to help give her the strength to kill herself. I did think that the reasons she felt the need to end her life seemed very trivial, but then I remembered back to when I was a teenager wanting to end my life, and how trivial those reasons would have looked to outsiders and how trivial they look to me now as an adult.
    I think shows like this are great. Suicide is a maddise taboo, one that even the soaps ignore and stop as just an attempt. It's good that it brings this matter up in every day conversation and hopefully makes people aware of how there actions, no matter how insignificant can seriously effect another person.

  6. For me Hannah's rape scene was key for me because it was acted for me perfectly. As a past victim I could relate to the dead look as you just wait for it to end so you can run away. It's not always a struggle with a stranger in an alleyway x

  7. Thank you so much for writing this Hayley. I've been so conflicted about whether to watch 13 Reasons Why. I've actually attempted suicide four times and I have been so worried that this would be triggering. I am still conflicted on whether I should watch it or not. But at least I now know the possible reactions that I could have if I do watch it. Thank you for that lovely lady. Hugs Lucy xxxx

  8. This was on my watch list but it sounds as though it's a bit heavy. Hmm might have to have a think before watching this. Anything that raises awareness of sensitive issues is a good thing :)


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