As a psych nurse who works with adolescents I have had this Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why", on my radar for some time, but I never actually sat down and watched it. It was only during an assessment of a post-suicide admit that I actually heard a patient say she got the idea from watching the series. So off I ran to do a bit of research. I found that the airing of the show was actually banned in Canada and in Australia had a warning that the show should only be watched with parental supervision that my curiosity took off. Finding myself recovering from viral meningitis and a week off work with pay I sat down opened Netflix and sat down to binge-watch the series.
The storyline reconstructs the last two years in the life of a teenage girl who completed suicide, her reasons for taking her life and the effect this all has on a young man who had a serious crush on her. While most of the episodes deal with typical twenty-first-century teen angst A darker message comes forth in last four episodes, where our victim falls victim to cyberbullying and "SlutShaming", endures witnessing a friend being raped and subsequently being raped herself. This is followed by the complete stupidity of the people who are supposed to formulate a teen's support network. I'm talking about friends, teacher's, parents and counselors. The main character turns to each in turn only to be turned away. Even her would be boyfriend tries but fails to help her. The straw that breaks the camel's back is when she visits a school counselor to report her rape and she is told that if she is unwilling to name her assailant she'll have to "get over it and move on." The young heroine goes home gets into a bathtub and in a very graphic and brutal scene, takes her life by opening her arms from elbow to wrist with a razor.
The story left me feeling empty, angry and sad. As a survivor of a suicide attempt, I am acutely aware of the torment this character went through. Dealing for months or even years with a depressive disorder and told by folks to get over it or just "try being happy ". It doesn't work that way.
Nationwide since 2015. Suicide rates for adolescent girls (13-21) have risen approximately 30% while the rate for boys of the same age closely follows. These numbers reflect completed suicides as no one is actually keeping track of the failed attempts (I'm sure the CDC has a file somewhere). One has to wonder what is driving this march towards death and what we can do to curb the alarming trend.
As the story depicts all too often a troubled teen feels they cannot talk to friends who shame them, Parents who ignore them and counselors who just don't listen or worse yet offer only platitudes.
Producers of the series state that the show has helped to open a dialog between teens and their parents about the serious issues they face. One of the screenwriters defends the decision to depict the actual suicide so graphically. I was buying right in until I downloaded to book on which the series is based. In the book the lead character does not cut her wrists, she takes pills, and while the series wants to show how each person mentioned on Hannah's tapes feels in the wake of her suicide the book is only concerned with the character of Clay. A young man who had a crush on Hannah and his inability to fathom what led his friend to this final act.
After years of struggling with my own personal demons, child abuse, and the resultant PTSD, I know that life is something to be treasured and that age has a way of allowing one to settle themselves into a better place to cope with life's challenges.
It is important that our teens have a safe place to go. That someone: a friend, a parent, or a counselor is available to have the tough conversations that a teen suffering from anxiety and depression needs to have. It's ok, It gets better, You don't t have to do this alone, you are loved.