So if you’ve been on social media during the past few weeks you might have noticed a lot of posts and chatter about a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why. You may also have noticed that there’s been a pretty mixed reaction to it. I watched the whole series a couple of weeks ago and had quite a few thoughts/opinions about it, so thought I’d write them down. Side note – there will probably be a bunch of spoilers about it in this post. So if you haven’t watched it but intend to and don’t want anything given away, don’t read on 🙂
So 13 Reasons Why is a series based on a novel (which I must admit I haven’t read – although it’s now on my ‘to read’ list) about a girl called Hannah Baker. Hannah is a 17 year old girl who (and this isn’t a big spoiler – it’s revealed almost immediately, and in the description of the show!) has committed suicide, but who recorded 13 cassette tapes before she took her life, explaining what led her to this decision. Each tape is based on a particular person (friend, or teacher) and explains what they did, or didn’t do, or say, which when accumulated led her to the decision to take her life.
First of all, it’s not an easy watch. It’s an addictive show in its nature – each episode is another side of a tape, so instinctively you want to keep watching to find out who did what, and to find out what tipped Hannah over that horrendous edge. But much of it is not a comfortable watch. The ‘reasons’ (and I’m trying not to give away every spoiler here) include both seemingly small, insignificant acts from Hannah’s friends – typical teenage dramas some might describe it as – to more obvious incidents such as sexual assault. But they all impact each other, and when added up, became too much for her to cope with.
The show has received praise and criticism in abundance. It is praised for shining a light on suicide, and the ugly reality of it. It’s praised for creating conversation about mental health, which it undoubtedly does. It is also praised for making people – and I’d guess teenagers and adolescents in particular, though not only that age group – realise just how HUGE an impact everything you say and do could potentially have. It highlights the fact that you never, ever know what is really going on in someone’s head. You never know what someone’s mental health might be like, how their state of mind is, or what they might be battling or dealing with, long term or even just on that particular day. Therefore, any comment you make, seemingly innocent or otherwise, could be enough to tip someone over the edge.
And I love the fact the show has drawn attention to this. I wrote about it in another post recently, where I mentioned a segment I’d watched on This Morning where two mothers talked about their teenage children who had committed suicide because of cyber bullying. You really never know how one little not-so-nice comment, look, or even lack of comment or acknowledgement could make someone feel. Particularly with social media and texting where you’re so remote from any reaction, its easy to forget there’s a person at the other end of the phone/social media account, and that what you say or do has consequences. Instead of saying something sarcastic and mean, or ignoring someone in the corridor you used to be friends with, ask them how they are. Even remember to ask your friends how they are, or how things are going. You don’t know how much difference that could make. It’s important that this is highlighted and stressed, and I’ve seen loads of conversation about this aspect of the show from teens on FB, so hopefully it will have a positive impact. #bekind
There were elements of the show though that I wasn’t so convinced on. They showed the graphic way Hannah ended her life, and I understand that this was to highlight that it’s not pretty, or easy, and it shouldn’t be considered as either. And I think it achieved that (I had to fast forward it because I couldn’t watch the entire scene). It does make me nervous though that anyone feeling vulnerable and in a similar place to Hannah could be ‘spurred on’ by watching it rather than deterred, and mental health charities and anti-suicide campaigns have raised similar concerns, as it could be a potential trigger. I think they hope though that the gruesomeness of it, along with the fact Hannah has a clear support network around her, even if she couldn’t see it, will show that it is not an option, never mind the only one.
That however is the other thing I’m just not convinced on. I don’t think that they show just how many other options Hannah had. I’ve seen people comment that the show highlights just how many people she had around her who cared about her, but I’m not entirely sure it does. I think it shows she has people, but that not one of them was there for her when she needed it most. Granted she couldn’t manage to directly ask the majority of them for help, but when it came down to it and she did ask for help in the best way she could manage, the counsellor, though meaning well, tells her to ‘move on’. Now Hannah’s mental state was clearly not positive or stable, and she had been through a lot, which meant she saw this as him refusing her help. But I don’t think it’s a great message for anyone feeling like she does: ‘even if you’re brave enough to ask for help, you won’t get any anyway’ is how I read that. Maybe I’m being over critical here or missing the point, but if anyone who can relate to Hannah’s feelings and situations reads it the same way I did, there could be really negative outcomes.
Anyway, aside from that, I think the show is really well produced and has a clear, VERY important message: it is ok to not be ok. It’s ok to not be perfect, and it’s more than ok to ask for help. It WILL get better. Things won’t always be that bad – something teenage brains (which work differently to adult brains!) often struggle to remember or comprehend. Just talk to someone. Friend, family member, teacher, colleague, stranger on the other end of a helpline. Anyone. The more you talk, the easier and better it will become. Which leads me into my next topic…
Tonight I watched the second episode of ‘Mind over Marathon’, a BBC documentary about a group of 10 individuals with mental health problems who had signed up to run the London marathon. Linked to the ‘Heads Together’ campaign, which is spearheaded by the future king, Prine William, along the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the group committed to 6 months of training, both physical and mental, before running the 26.2 miles. The diverse group all suffered from depression, as well as other mental health disorders such as OCD, anxiety and PTSD. Seeing the courage and determination of the individuals was truly inspiring. I mean, anyone who can run that distance has my admiration, but managing to do it with/after suffering from depression, which leaves you struggling to get out of bed, was really quite admirable. They all said they benefitted from the running (exercise released endorphins, and endorphins lift your mood…), as well as the community and purpose it gave them. One lady, Rhian, had lost her infant son suddenly to pneumonia, then 5 days later her husband took his own life. She has subsequently suffered from crippling anxiety and depression, and carried a lot of self blame. Her ‘story’ was discussed a lot throughout the documentary, and watching her cross the finish line after 26.2 miles had me absolutely sobbing.
The main thing that I loved about the programme was the constant encouragement to talk about mental health. This year’s London marathon was dubbed the ‘mental health marathon’, because of the royals’ Heads Together campaign, the main aim of which was to normalise conversation about mental health. It’s so important – it shouldn’t be any different from conversation about physical health, and yet it brings with it stigma and shame and embarrassment. But it shouldn’t.
Everyone has mental health, just as they have physical health. 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem. That’s a huge fraction of the population. I’m sure some people are more predisposed to mental health problems than others, and there have in fact been times I’ve had a glimpse at what people with depression or anxiety disorders must experience day in day out. I know people who do have to deal with those conditions every day, and this isn’t surprising given the 1 in 4 statistic…I’m sure you do too. People just need to know it’s okay to talk about it, and it’s okay to get help.