Why I Won't Watch '13 Reasons Why'

As someone who frequently advocates for mental health awareness, I often have the show 13 Reasons Why recommended to me. Fans of the show say that it brings awareness to mental illness and suicidal ideation in high school students, but the premise of the show left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. 

The content is incredibly triggering to me, but that’s not the ultimate reason I choose not to watch the show. 

When I was in high school I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation twice - I had dealt with bullying, issues with my home life and coming to terms with my sexuality, all of which are issues raised on the show. A huge problem for me back then was blaming people for my feelings of worthlessness, and it was a barrier to me seeking treatment. I thought that if only people treated me better, I wouldn’t feel so depressed. I was wrong. 

I think this is where 13 Reasons Why falls short. If I would have seen the show in high school, it probably would've strengthened my feelings that other people were responsible for my mental health. Of course, it’s important to create a support system for yourself, but no one can ultimately “save” you. 

It was always a fantasy of mine that some girl would come along and she would “heal” me with her love, but now I realize that’s BS. I needed to learn to love myself, to find reasons to live for myself. 13 Reasons Why, with its romantic plotline, makes me concerned for girls struggling with mental illness who may be watching. 

I also worry about the manipulative nature of Hannah’s tapes. It’s a common myth that people will use suicide as a means of revenge, but most people who are suicidal have a history of mental health problems that go deeper. 

Of course, external forces contributed to my mental health, but an even larger force was my mental illness. I’m so lucky that I had counselors and teachers in high school who encouraged help-seeking behaviors in me. Not every student has this. If the show manages to bring some awareness to mental illness, I’m glad. 

The overwhelming feeling I have toward the show is exhaustion. I’m tired of mental health being discussed only after it’s “too late” for a character. I want to see a show where a girl is hospitalized for her suicidal ideation. I want to see a show where she works through her mental illness despite stigma. A show like that would have helped me as a teenager. 

If this show has been helpful to someone who has struggled with suicidal ideation I am not in any way trying to invalidate your experience. Every person with a mental illness will cope differently, and my experience with suicidal ideation is not universal. 

To fight the stigma we need to give voices to people struggling with a variety of mental illnesses in different ways. I hope there will be more shows about mental illness, and maybe in the future more teenagers who struggle will feel comfortable seeking help. 


Image courtesy of Spoiler TV