’13 Reasons Why’ fails to address the reality of mental health

Content warning: Suicide

 

Of late, the internet has been obsessed with the recently released Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why, produced by Selena Gomez, which has had a significant impact on adults and teenagers alike. But is it for the right reasons?

Billed as raising vital awareness of suicide and mental health issues in young people, the show tells the story of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, her death by suicide and the consequences that follow. A tragic story, the show found instant success. But should topics as sensitive as suicide and mental health issues really be the subject of a pop culture hit?

The show has received a lot of backlash and criticism from celebrities, parents and experts alike. Even before they released the programme, the producers were warned about the fact that the plot would be provocative.

Having watched the series recently, I was shocked at how few – if any – explicit references to mental health there were. Although ultimately suicidal, Hannah’s deterioration seemed unrealistic and rushed, rather than thought out and sensitive, as had been the show’s main aim. Another aspect which I found particularly surprising was the fact that suicide seemed to be Hannah’s only option, a fact which is never true.

It raises the question of whether it is ever appropriate to raise awareness in a way that arguably romanticised such a delicate issue. Since the show’s release numerous memes and jokes have been made on social media about the show, reflecting the danger of the issues presented in the show being absorbed and accepted within society, rather than debated and discussed as was the intention.
Another programme that has been dealing with a similar issue in a far better way was the BBC’s recent documentary Mind over Marathon. Focusing on the lives of 10 people coping with mental illness alongside their training and attempts to run the London Marathon, it presented these issues in a far less glamorous light.
A heart-warming and inspiring insight into the lives of real people going through such difficulties, it is fair to say that this is the way in which awareness should be raised. Mind over Marathon is a reflection of the way in which people in the real world have been able to deal with problems such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, all issues which can be linked to the events which take place in 13 Reasons Why. However, none of the issues are glorified or dramatised in the BBC’s programme, instead helping to establish them as real life concerns rather than the subject of a teen fad. Furthermore, Mind over Marathon emphasises from the outset that there is always another option, always someone to talk to and always help at hand, a point which 13 Reasons Why evidently neglects.
To raise awareness of mental health  problems, such as suicide and depression, the use of true, unfiltered and un-romanticised stories is a far more sensitive approach. That is not to say we should dismiss shows like 13 Reasons Why entirely and brand them as bad influence on young people. Instead, less of an emphasis should be placed on the role of fiction in raising awareness of such sensitive issues. Instead, we should allow awareness to be raised through true stories and experience, reflecting the message that there is always help and support should anyone ever need it.

 

Image: Brian Cantoni

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