In Defense of Hannah Baker

13 Reasons Why is the new Netflix show taking the world by storm. It’s a story about a girl who commits suicide and leaves behind thirteen tapes, each a reason why she ended up taking her own life. One by one, each of the thirteen people who are on the tapes listen to what they did that caused Hannah to become so depressed. It’s a brutally honest look at bullying, depression, and suicide that every single person needs to see. As someone who has faced bullying, depression, and suicidal thoughts, this show was everything I needed to see; it gives me hope that people will finally begin to understand just how nuanced depression can be, and just how important it is that we all act as allies for those who suffer from it.

And yes, based on the positive reactions from everyone I know, the show’s point is hitting home. But if I hear one more person talk about how Hannah Baker is a “bitch” or how she’s “too dramatic” and “blew everything out of proportion,” or see another stupid meme about trivial things that would push Hannah to make a tape, I might scream.

I understand that Hannah’s tapes put the listeners through hell—after her death, the last thing a bunch of high schoolers needed was to relive all of the awful things that happened, the things that they had done. But there’s something about depression that drives you to do desperate things to ask for help. Hannah was too far gone, and she needed to use the tapes to explain why she did what she needed to do. Carrying those thoughts and memories around and no-one to share them with can really weigh a person down. She needed the tapes as a cathartic release, to come to terms with what she planned to do. You can’t judge her for finally finding a way to ask for help, even if it was too late.

“But she could have just told Clay, or her mom!” I think it’s this quote that bothers me the most, frankly. It shows just how far behind our culture is when it comes to understanding mental health. Because, no, that isn’t how it works at all. If we remember, after the fateful car crash caused by Jess and Hannah, a tearful Hannah approached Clay at his locker. She tried to open up to him, and he shot her down. Yes, he was grieving and he didn’t understand what was going on. Clay loved her, and if he knew, he would have done anything to help her. But that isn’t what happened, and that isn’t what Hannah saw. What she saw was a moment for her to finally be vulnerable that was quickly shut down. Everything built up to this moment, where she would finally let Clay in, but one instance of rejection is all it takes to destroy someone with depression. At Hannah’s stage, she was probably already considering the idea of suicide. And when you’re in that deep, when all you can think about is the constant burden you place on the world, it can be too taxing to ask for help. And when you do, and it isn’t received, depression likes to tell you that it’s because of you—that you aren’t worth saving. And it’s almost impossible to keep trying after that.

So before you go ahead and make that joke about Hannah being too dramatic, or decide to call her a bitch, take a second to think. Because unless you’ve been in her shoes, it’s impossible to understand just what is going on in her mind. Yes, suicide was her choice, and hers alone. But she isn’t the only person responsible for how she felt. Constant bullying and isolation left her with nothing but depression—and when that’s all you have, you will do almost anything to shut it up. So Hannah made the tapes. She made her voice heard. It may not be what you would do in her situation, but you can’t judge what another person decides to do with their life. And yes, this is a fictional show, and insulting Hannah doesn’t actually hurt her. But it does hurt all of us who have to listen to your judgments, those of us who have been bullied and isolated and depressed and suicidal. I urge you to just try to consider Hannah’s side, to think about what you are actually saying. Because if you truly think that 13 Reasons Why was overdramatic, or about a girl who was waiting for a boy to save her, then you missed the point entirely.

Hannah Baker was lost. She was hurt, scared, confused, and empty. None of these qualities make her a “bitch” or “crazy.” And if you still dislike her, that’s fine. But by insulting her and the premise of the show, you are insulting a whole group of people who have fought like warriors through the endless hell that is depression. And some of us are still fighting. So please keep that in mind as you continue to discuss the show with your friends. Try to think about it from another point of view, or ask your friends how they truly feel about it. Because you might be surprised just how many of your loved ones have gone through what she has. And once you hear their stories, you might finally begin to understand why this show is so important, and hopefully understand what Hannah truly stands for.

 

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