Why You Shouldn't Be Watching 13 Reasons Why & Looking For Alaska

Imagine being at the peak of puberty (scary, but only for a second), and you are debating what show you are going to binge on Netflix or Hulu. You see two shows in your recommended: 13 Reasons Why and Looking For Alaska. Even though they are rated TV-MA, that has no impact on young, impressionable teenagers. In recent years, shows like 13 Reasons Why and Looking For Alaska portray an unrealistic view of mental illness, going as far as romanticizing suicide and other mental illnesses. 

13 Reasons Why follows a young high schooler, Hannah Baker, who made thirteen cassette tapes as to the reasons why she committed suicide. Although many commend the Netflix show for tackling controversial issues and starting important conversations among young people, they distort what mental illness is and provide little to no information to guide these impressionable viewers. The show even contains a graphic suicide scene as well as multiple disturbing sexual assault scenes. Even though the show had the opportunity to tackle mental illness issues, the plot surrounds itself on a revenge fantasy of suicide, only glamorizing it and providing a method on how to accomplish it.

Mental illness impacts many teenagers and when watching shows like 13 Reasons Why, Hannah Baker tends to resonate with them. The show only highlights the external factors on the reasons behind her suicide, never acknowledging that the most pressing factor was her own depression and anxiety. Within the show, it also shows the worst-case scenario of what can happen when you seek help. This is even more detrimental to the mental health of viewers as it shows counselors as an enemy, portraying an inaccurate representation of therapy. Not once within the first two seasons do they address mental illness. Hannah Baker clearly suffered from severe social anxiety and depression and yet in the second season of the show, the parents sue the school as the reason for their daughter’s death. 

13 Reasons Why does a poor job in explaining a realistic experience of mental illness in high school. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide, but it is something many people struggle with. Shows like this distort mental illness in order to create a dramatic, Hollywood style portrayal to increase ratings. 

Recently Looking For Alaska was released as a Hulu series, and much like 13 Reasons Why, it handles mental illness issues. It follows a friend group at a boarding school which consists of the elusive Alaska Young. Much like Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons Why, Alaska deals with depression and mental illnesses, but the show distorts clear signs of depression as angsty and meticulously crafted sayings. At one point Alaska even says, “Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.”

Both shows completely distort living with mental illness, especially in this day and age. The mere fact that neither discusses a realistic portrayal of teens struggling with mental illness is both irresponsible and detrimental to young teens’ health. 

Mental illness is not shameful and should not be treated as such, that being said if you or anyone close to you is struggling with mental illness, reach out, and know that it is okay to reach out and to seek help - it means that you are strong.