Powerful, painful, meaningful: 13 Reasons Why

Reviewing 13 Reasons Why was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do, simply because there’s so much to talk about. So, I decided to go a different route and split things up.

I, myself, have had experience with depression. I’ve had experience with social anxiety. And yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit I had suicidal thoughts during my time at middle school. For those reasons, there was a lot of this Netflix adaptation that resonated with me.

I should stress, I didn’t have an environment like Liberty High. Far from it. I was backed by a brilliant class who knew what was going on. They properly looked out for me. My parents were rocks. They were unwavering in their support. My teachers were remarkable in their patience. My therapist was a superhero and is, and always will be, one of my heroes.

Undoubtedly, there is a fine balance to be struck when handling something like depression and a subject such as suicide. It’s got to be done sensitively, though by no means can you walk on eggshells.

Thankfully, 13 Reasons Why finds it. It’s genuinely painful in its depiction of a young girl, with her whole life ahead of her, sinking deeper and deeper until she feels the only way out is suicide. Indeed, Hannah taking her own life is one of the most difficult scenes I think I’ve ever had to watch.

And honestly? I commend the show for making it so.

Over the course of its 13-episode run, the show tackles a raft of issues. It never shies away from any of them. It absolutely had to do this with Hannah’s suicide. It’s a horrible scene but suicide IS horrible. I’ll fight anyone to the end of the earth for calling it selfish because it’s not. It never will be. It’s tragic and it’s heartbreaking, heartbreaking that anyone should ever feel it’s their only option.

I understand how it’s impossible really to understand why someone would want to take their own life – unless you’ve been there. With that in mind, enter 13 Reasons Why. With a show like this coming along and handling the subject matter in the way it has, it’s so damn important.

The mind is a complicated thing. With a broken leg, you can see what someone’s struggling with. With feeling low, with depression and those sorts of things, you can’t. What 13 Reasons Why does is depict Hannah’s devastating fall to that point – once she reaches it, she feels out of options. She’s lost.

Only that morning, she’d set out to give life one last try. Only that morning, things went wrong once again. You never know what’s going on in someone’s head, but three words can change that. “How you doing?” “Are you okay?” “Are you alright?”

When we talk about representation, it doesn’t just have to be for race. It’s a massively important thing and I believe with such a thing as mental illness, it can have an enormous impact. I’m certain that as Hannah grows depressed, as she grows increasingly shut off, as the light in her life begins to go out, it’s a gut-wrenching journey that others will relate to.

Teenagers have it tough. For some, school days are smashing. For others, they’re really difficult.

I doubt I was the only one able to relate to Hannah’s loneliness as the series progressed. I was terrible at reaching out during my own experiences for quite a while, but there’s almost an “It’s a Wonderful Life” quality to 13 Reasons Why.

We see the before and after. We see the way Hannah is treated when she’s alive. We see what cruelty can do. We see the places that people can go when she feels as she feels. Yet, once she’s gone, we (eventually) see genuine remorse from a number of her classmates. We see that so many of them could do more and they recognise that. They wish they had.

Perhaps, just perhaps, someone struggling can see themselves on screen in the form of Hannah. They can see that there could be a light out there. There could be more. There could be a reason to hold on that bit longer. There could be a reason to try and reach out. Just perhaps.

Perhaps, just perhaps, someone struggling can see themselves on screen in the form of Hannah.

Continuing with the cruelty aspect of the series, it was only last night on Twitter that I saw a girl, who was discussing football, receive a series of misogynistic replies including the tiresome ‘kitchen’ jibes alongside another which could constitute as ‘rape culture’. Girls face this shit on a day-to-day basis. I’ve seen it plenty times on Twitter and I regret not wading in.

It’s a fact that people hide behind social media. They say cruel things and they don’t have to face the consequences. That’s wrong.

13 Reasons Why tackles this head on. It’s a big part of pushing Hannah into this hole she can’t climb her way out of.

When we meet her she’s got an optimism, a belief people are good and as the series progresses, this is steadily eroded in harrowing fashion. The first spark, if you like, comes from the night of her first kiss with Justin. He takes an unflattering picture which is later enhanced by a lie he tells to basically play up to Bryce and co. (toxic masculinity, another thing tackled). Through the spreading of rumours and lies, Hannah is handed the reputation of a “slut”, as “easy and although absolutely not the case, it’s already the point of no return.

The show doesn’t just tackle rape culture, it tackles rape. Bryce rapes Justin’s girlfriend Jessica when she’s heavily intoxicated, while he also rapes Hannah in the penultimate episode. As with the suicide, these are horrible, uncomfortable scenes and again, kudos to the show for making them that.

Why should we sugar coat this? This shit happens. It’s horrible to sit through but good. Damn good. Perhaps it can push us into doing something about it. Porter, the school’s guidance counsellor, certainly doesn’t when Hannah comes to him and reveals her rape. Perhaps overwhelmed (though by no means an excuse) he suggests she could “move on”, which again is all too real.

For some reason, we live in a world where being a dick seems to be easier for people than being a friend.

13 Reasons Why shows us the value of reaching out. It shows us the value of being kind. It shows us that words hurt. Actions have a cost. What someone may see as a joke could be anything but to someone else. And I think that is really damn powerful. It’s one of those things we should know, but we don’t. How often do you hear the ridiculous ‘just banter’ excuse? It’s a way to advocate responsibility and run away.

For some reason, we live in a world where being a dick seems to be easier for people than being a friend.

In the final episode, Clay says, “It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.” Hopefully 13 Reasons Why can be a part of that ‘somehow’.

I’d hope that it’s opened up people’s eyes. For someone who has suffered from depression and had some genuinely dark days, it opened mine. It’s honestly got me to see the world a little differently, even when I thought I already had it nailed.

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