Pieta Blog - 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why

Date: 22nd May 2017

13 Reasons Why is a 2007 novel-turned-Netflix show that was released in March of this year. In a nutshell, the series reflects on events in the lead up to the suicide of its main character, Hannah Baker, and is narrated by Hannah from beyond the grave via a series of cassette tapes.

13 Reasons Why has become a hit with audiences all over the world, but its popularity is controversial. An open discussion of suicide and mental illness is a welcome thing, and there is an argument that 13 Reasons Why has facilitated this – which, to an extent, may be true, and which is not something we would wish to discourage. Unfortunately, the show also romanticises Hannah’s suicide, and ignores guidelines for dramatic depictions of suicide deaths. Commenting on the show, the National Suicide Research Foundation has written of the “consistent evidence of the negative impact of detailed and graphic portrayals of suicide in terms of an increased risk of copycat suicides, in particular among young vulnerable people.”

As the show’s posthumous protagonist, Hannah Baker is the focus of everyone’s attention – both that of the audience, and of her fellow characters. This, coupled with the show’s glorification of a lonely and marginalised person after her death, have potentially harmful implications for those vulnerable viewers for whom Hannah is very much alive. Her school locker is memorialised, and fellow students even take selfies with it. At no point does it feel as though Hannah is really gone.

The 13 Reasons of the title refer to the reasons Hannah gives for her suicide – each referring to a person she has left behind, and their treatment of her. While it is important to recognise that the way we treat others can affect them in ways we can never know, to perpetuate the idea that a suicide has clearly defined reasons, and can be blamed on an individual or individuals is an over-simplification of the complexities of the issue, as well as potentially harmful to survivors of a suicide loss who may already be struggling with feelings of guilt.

Hannah makes only one attempt to seek help: from a school counsellor who fails to grasp her distress and who is shown throughout the show as being incapable of helping Hannah’s friends to cope after her death. His ineptitude – and thus, symbolically, the futility of asking for help – is emphasised by the suicide attempt of another character toward the end of the series. All of the show’s younger characters hide their growing distress from a slew of worried parents who ultimately also fail to provide their children with any meaningful help or support.

The suicide that triggered the plot is depicted in graphic detail. The Press Council of Ireland’s code of practice states that “excessive detail of the means of suicide should be avoided”, so in itself this is problematic. Add to this, that dying and in death, Hannah is as beautiful as she was in life, further romanticising her suicide, and you have something that, as a whole, could potentially be triggering to vulnerable viewers who have identified with Hannah from the beginning of the show.

It is important to remember that 13 Reasons Why is fiction, and help is always available. If you are having thoughts of suicide, have lost a loved one to suicide, or are self-harming, you can call Pieta House 24/7 on our Freephone helpline: 1800 247 247. 13 Reasons Why is immensely popular, particularly with younger people across Ireland, and an awareness of the show and the issues it raises is important for parents, educators, and caregivers.