13 Reasons Why: A Critical View on Mental Health

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13 Reasons Why: A Critical View on Mental Health  

Since its launch on Netflix in 2017, the show 13 Reasons Why (13RW) has generated a massive amount of attention and controversy, not only from its teen viewers, but from adults and mental health professionals alike. While the show is often praised for tackling important issues of bullying, youth suicide, and depression, it is also criticized for pushing a potentially damaging interpretation of mental health, and for exploiting the serious issue of suicide for entertainment. Here is a critical look at the show, and some of the more concerning elements of its portrayal of mental health and mental illness.

What Is 13 Reasons Why About?  

Based on Jay Asher’s 2007 novel of the same name, 13 Reasons Why tells the story of high school student Hannah Baker, who leaves behind a series of cassette tapes to explain why she has chosen to end her life. Each tape is addressed to a different person, who is, in her own way, responsible for the series of experiences that lead to Hannah’s suicidal act. The series follows 17-year-old Clay Jensen as he listens to the tapes and slowly uncovers the truth behind Hannah’s death.

Why Is 13 Reasons Why Controversial?  

13RW has garnered much criticism from mental health professionals and suicide prevention advocates, who claim that the show glamorizes suicide and fails to accurately represent mental illness and its treatment. Here are 13 reasons why 13RW is so controversial:

  1. Lack of Accurate Representation of Mental Illness

13RW fails to accurately depict the reality of mental illness and instead portrays it as an exaggerated, melodramatic expression of adolescent angst. The show paints a one-dimensional, superficial image of the idea of mental illness, and ignores the fact that it can and should be treated.

  1. Glorification of Suicide

13RW creates a romanticized and heroic portrayal of suicide, and fails to address the real dangers associated with it. It fails to include information about treatment options and resources, and instead implies that suicide is a rational and justified decision.

  1. Normalization of Substance Abuse

The show normalizes the abuse substances such as alcohol and prescription drugs, without addressing the real and dangerous consequences of such behavior. This can be especially damaging for younger viewers, who may not recognize the real risks associated with drug and alcohol abuse.

  1. Inaccurate Professional Advice

13RW portrays adults, such as school counselors and medical professionals, as unable or unwilling to give accurate professional advice. This implies that adults are not to be trusted and can be powerless to help those suffering from mental health issues, and may discourage viewers from seeking out professional help.

  1. Inaccurate Characterization of Bullying

The show portrays bullying as inevitable, inevitable, and even somewhat rational in certain cases. 13RW inaccurately implies that one person’s behavior creates a vacuum, which can be filled by someone else. This could lead viewers to believe that bullying isn’t preventable or addressable, when in reality it’s something that can and should be addressed.

  1. Triggering Content

The show includes graphic scenes of teenage suicide, rape, physical and emotional abuse, and bullying, which could be triggering for viewers who are dealing with similar issues in their own lives. The show fails to provide resources or information about how to seek help and cope with this type of distress, making it difficult for viewers to find closure or seek support.

  1. Lack of Empathetic Representation

13RW does not provide an empathetic portrayal of characters experiencing mental health issues, instead reinforcing the stigma that those with mental health issues are wild, out of control, and beyond help. This could make viewers feel ashamed or embarrassed to reach out for help if they are struggling with similar issues in their lives.

  1. Unclear Suicide Methods

The show shows Hannah Baker’s suicide via a particularly graphic method, which is not recommended as an appropriate form of suicide. This depiction could make viewers believe that a certain method of suicide is the only way, or that it is the most effective way, to take one’s own life.

  1. Heightened Drama

The show’s plot is exaggerated and full of drama. These plotlines can make mental health issues seem like a game, instead of the serious and potentially life-threatening issues that they are.

  1. Simplistic Resolution

The show paints a simplistic picture of the resolution of mental illness: that it can be overcome in a few weeks of intense therapy and a few heartfelt conversations. In reality, mental health problems can take much longer to work through and require an ongoing commitment from individuals in therapy as well as their support system.

  1. Glorified Vengeance

Hannah’s tapes provide an unrealistic opinion of how to handle being wronged or hurt – take revenge and make others pay for the pain that you’ve experienced. It glorifies the idea of getting one’s own justice outside of the justice system, and fails to convey a proper or healthy solution to addressing wrongs.

  1. No Representation of Teens Struggling With Mental Health

The show fails to portray any teens who struggle with mental illness but are also learning to cope, thrive, and reach their potential in spite of it. This could lead viewers to believe that it’s impossible to be successful and have a mental illness at the same time.

  1. Poorly Handled Storyline

The show’s story arc raises more questions than it answers and leaves viewers feeling frustrated and confused about mental illness and how to handle it. This lack of resolution and little explanation can be damaging to viewers, especially those who are in the midst of their own struggles with mental health issues.

The show 13 Reasons Why has gained immense popularity and respect for its portrayal of serious issues facing teens and adolescents, such as bullying, suicide, and depression. But it has also sparked a great deal of controversy due to its potentially damaging interpretation of mental health and mental illness, and its exploitation of the serious issue of suicide for entertainment. Hopefully, the show’s creators can use this controversy to make future seasons of 13 Reasons Why better reflect the complexity of mental health and mental illness, and provide better resources and guidance to those who are struggling.

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