The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
**Trigger Warning: Mentions of Suicide, Mental Illness, and Sexual Assault**
After guiltily drooling over Nate and Fez in the season two premiere of Euphoria, it’s time to appreciate the show’s success in spreading mental health awareness in comparison to its predecessor, 13 Reasons Why. I watched 13 Reasons Why from beginning to end, and I’m still not sure how I made it. There were many instances where you could find fourteen-year-old me sneakily watching the show in my room. Partly because all of my friends thought it was dumb but mainly because my mom had received an email from my school telling her not to let me watch it. 13 Reasons Why had failed its mission to “start a conversation” about suicide so tremendously that schools weren’t even letting their students talk about the show. Not to mention that the month after the show’s premiere, teenage suicide rates spiked about 28.9% (according to the National Institute of Mental Health). So why is it that Euphoria, a show with just as serious topics and the same target audience, didn’t have the same backlash?
I credit the distinction to the shows’ delivery of mental illness: romanticizing it versus representing it. 13 Reasons Why‘s characters exhibit their mental illnesses in a way that downplays their potential impact. There are also no lasting effects on the characters’ lives, and the show moves on from each issue way too quickly. But my biggest concern with 13 Reasons Why‘s depiction of mental health is that they turned Hannah Baker into a hero. Those who struggle with suicidal thoughts or emotions often see it as a last resort or cry for help — they feel alone. In this show, they painted suicide as the solution to this lonely feeling by having Hannah be the main voice of reason. There was a list of reasons trying to convince the viewer why it made sense for Hannah to do what she did. Not only that, but they made it seem like Hannah was more useful after her suicide than before, which is extremely dangerous for those dealing with similar issues. The writers of this show exaggerated her decision-making in an attempt to make it more interesting. By dramatizing the show, they downplayed the mental strain and humanly imperfect behavior that exist in these situations. Instead of spreading mental health awareness, they made a mockery of those who struggle with topics like suicidal thoughts and sexual assault.
Now let’s discuss how Euphoria actually succeeded in “starting a conversation” and what set the shows apart. To start, it’s clear that Euphoria‘s writers researched the effects of certain mental illnesses and their causes. So instead of making a character have a type of schizophrenia where the person knows their hallucinations aren’t real like in 13 Reasons Why, Euphoria shows clear mannerisms and backstory that is scientifically accurate to the disorder. For example, Rue’s OCD doesn’t exaggerate organizational habits in an attempt to make the audience laugh, she instead subtly shows how having OCD can make her everyday life more difficult. She simply lives with mental illness as opposed to romanticizing or making a parody of it, allowing the viewer to see her mental illness as something not to be fearful of. Those who struggle with the same mental illnesses depicted in Euphoria can see themselves represented and are taught that they don’t have to be embarrassed.
So how exactly does Euphoria succeed in where 13 Reasons Why failed? By educating themselves on mental health rather than spreading a false and harmful narrative that affects the lives of real people. By focusing on actually “starting a conversation” instead of avoiding the details of sensitive topics to make it more theatrical. The creators of 13 Reasons Why used mental illnesses, sexual assault, and drug abuse to make each new story arc seem more dramatic. Euphoria put their work into creating an attention-grabbing plot line that raises awareness of the reality of mental illness.