This isn’t a post to review this much talked about show. In fact a day after finishing the series I’m still not sure what my overriding feelings are towards it. I do know that I found it very hard-going and that it had a very obvious negative effect on my mood. The relentlessly dark thread throughout the 13 episodes meant I had to take regular breaks from it, which is very different to my usual bing watching approach to a Netflix series.’ While I still take some time post-viewing to formulate my opinion, and decide whether I think they should have even put this show online, I did want to talk about some of the elements that the show highlighted that I feel ring very true for young adults and/or people that struggle with mental health issues.
1.The cumulative effect of events, moments and feelings is often what leads to that point of hopelessness and feelings of wanting to give up on life altogether. For some it may be one significant event or battle that has lead to finding oneself in this state, but for many the frequency of negative moments can contribute to a feeling of ‘Maybe I deserve this’, ‘Maybe I’m the problem.’ ,’I’m not sure I fit in with this world’. Some just feel numbed or exhausted by the conveyer belt of negativity.
I know that when I am in a particularly dark phase with my depression that it can be a small moment, one sentence uttered, one tweet posted even, that can tip me over into that worrying area of wanting to give up, or not having the ability of seeing a way out. This is why it’s so important we are mindful of all the interactions we have each and every day.
I was watching a few episodes of the show with someone else, and numerous times throughout the they’d say things like ‘Hannah’s overreacted there’ or ‘whats the big deal’. Completely understanding why the situation was becoming so overwhelming for the main character, I made sure to point out that Hannah was already at a point where she was feeling ostracised, misunderstood, lonely or let down, and that this ‘trivial’ moment was another thing piling on top of that existing vulnerability or source of sadness.
2. There is still a scary amount of misunderstanding about what behaviour/actions constitutes sexual assault, abuse and rape. The fact that some people (including characters in this show) excuse this abhorrent behaviour with comments like, ‘She’s easy’ ‘She was giving me the eye’, ‘We were all drunk’, says a lot about how much education is still necessary in this area not just for kids for adults too. This misunderstanding is undoubtedly contributing to many victims not feeling like they can report the crimes (like Jessica/Hannah), meaning they find it hard to get any sort of closure( if that’s possible anyway) and the attackers are free to continue to commit these crimes.
The arrogance displayed by Bryce is something I’ve seen/witnessed before too. I’ve sadly known guys that can’t fathom that a girl wouldn’t desire them in that way…
3. Everything slightly bad/embarrassing that happens when you’re a teenager feels like the end of the world. When you’re in school, the people within those boundaries and their views of you and your social standing are what matters the most, it’s the most intense social bubble. If something happens that becomes talk of the school for that day, you believe you or your life has been ruined and that this will continue to impact the success of the rest of your life…which we know in a lot of cases isn’t true. When you’re young you don’t have history and experience back up what the adults are telling you, you know, that everything will be forgotten and when you’re older you’ll look back on this and realise it didn’t matter, or that it actually helped you become who you are (in a positive sense).
3. Sadness, guilt or anger can have a huge affect on your behaviour. Clay was a good kid with a kind heart but you saw him become increasingly angry and finding him self in uncharacteristically potty mouthed or in violent situations. Grief has a profound effect, and because Clay took so long to get through the tapes that period of confusion surrounding the suicide was extended and his spiral of depression and lack of control enhanced. I think the show displayed how different people cope with loss and devastation too. Some seemed in complete denial, some sought comfort in finding answers and fighting for justice (Hannahs mum), some wanted to act like nothing had happened, others, like Alex and Clay found it very obviously difficult to live. The character of Justin also points out that often bullies are cultivated by a negative environment at home.
4. You need to make amends to move on. I think Sheri finally ringing the police and reporting her own crime was a good reminder to us all that you have to own what you do (good or bad), and take the consequences. She tried to make amends by looking after the older gentlemen that was injured but you could see she was still struggling to move on knowing that she hadn’t done the right thing. With Clay pushing her to confess you got the impression she’s find herself in a much better place, and that honesty would be the best thing for her in terms of moving forward and finding forgiveness in herself.
5. The people you open up to can have a huge effect on how you face your challenges. There are moments throughout the series when people say flippant things that seem fairly insignificant and banal, but they provide enough ammo to the vulnerable person in question to clam up, retreat and and put that guard firmly up. When Hannah makes the brave decision to visit the counsellor the phone keeps ringing. The he opts for a few perhaps unhelpful questions when trying to discover what event has lead Hannah to visit him. His choice of words/questionings makes Hannah believe that he may not qualify/believe what she was intending to tell him. When a teary Hannah attempts to tell Clay what’s she’s just gone through, he snaps presuming she’s making the death of Jeff all about her, and in so makes Hannah believe another channel of comfort has been closed to her. If we are tackling anything emotionally taxing or stressful it can often take a lot of bravery and trust to be able to share that. If someone gives us reason to think they’re not listening, understanding or taking it seriously it can make us go back to internalising .
6.Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is struggling with something. Just because someone’s rich, in the cool gang, or very good looking, it doesn’t mean they hold the ability to avoid any of life struggles or pitfalls, nor does it mean they exist without any insecurities or worries. You saw in the show that popular Jock Zac was extremely lonely. He appeared to have a lot of friends but it appeared to me at least that he lacked those meaningful deeper friendships, the unconditional ones that are based on knowing the core of the person rather than the superficial surface stuff that was always given precedence at school. Another popular Jock, who on the outside may appear to have it all was Justin, who was actually struggling for money and having to rely on the Bryce for new sports shoes as well as a safe place to stay. He was having to deal with a very turbulent home life due to his mums drug habit and her unsavoury choice of partner. I think the show reminds us that appearances can be deceiving and there’s always a lot of layers to make up a being – all contributing to the person they show to to the public.
7. Yes we’ve come a long way in lots of way, including acceptance when it comes to the LGBTQ community, but my word does the news serve as a regular reminder of how far we still have to go. Characters became frustrated with Courtney for not coming out, stating that these days it’s not even a big deal. This is sadly a generalisation which isn’t necessarily true. Coming out for Courtney was difficult because she grew up with two Gay Dads and she thought that it would confirm what a lot of disparaging people had said about her family unit – when she was young theirs was quite a rare family arrangement. How stressful the concept of coming out is to an individual can be due to so many different influences. Where in the world they reside, and how accepting and open they are to different sexualities. What their family or friends views are on it and how they think the news will go down. Where they are in your own acceptance of your sexual preferences. Sadly even what work they may want to go into and their perception of that industries views on the LGBTQ community may effect how ready/able you feel to come out. I think it’s good that they pointed out that despite the giggles and sharing around of the photos of Hannah and Courtney, that none of their friends actually had a problem with either of them being gay.
8. You make mistakes as a teenager, things you’ll regret – this is normal and everyone does it. Alex is one of the only characters featured on the tapes that really owns his mistakes early on, although as the series progresses you see some of the characters start to make amends and work to rectifying some of them in the best way they can. When I was a teen I think I fell into two categories when it came to the bad decisions and mistakes I made. I either beat myself up about the shoddy ones I made, letting them consume me for far too long and effect how open/confident I was moving forward. Or I’d refuse to acknowledge them as my own mistakes, finding blame in others, or thinking that the universe was out to get me. That’s if I’d got to the point of accepting I’d done something wrong. Now as an oldie I realise that it’s entirely necessary to make mistakes in your teens and twenties, as it enables us to evolve and live a bit more wisely when we reach proper adulthood. I wish I could have told my teenage self that mistakes don’t mean I’m a bad person, they just mean I’m human.
9. Communication is so important. There are so many frustrating moments, via the dream /what if sequences where we can see clearly how carefully chosen or just more words could have drastically changed the turn of events and the happiness of the individual. One thing the show really highlights well is that if the characters were more aware of each others unique pressures, worries and situations, they would have created a more empathetic and understanding social circle and school community. They would have understood why each behaved a certain way and in turn chosen not to take it so personally, or done something to make the person realise how their actions impacted them. I felt really sad about the Zac/Hannah situation because it was obvious to me he had just been extremely hurt by Hannah and was acting out of that hurt rather than anything really nasty. He decided to do something fairly risky when choosing comforting her after Marcus’ awful behaviour in the diner, considering it wasn’t siding against the influential Jock crew. I was watching that episode and willing him to keep trying with Hannah and felt really sad when he tore up the letting trap she left – I thought they could have had a nice friendship. Courtney shouldn’t have distanced herself when the pictures leaked of her and Hannah. You could see Hannah wanted to unite and was going to support Courtney, but due to Courtney’s fears regarding being outed she pushed Hannah away. Talking about communication, when you take an overview of the entire series, its obvious that every single character would have had more friendship and love in their lives if they’d been less fearful of communication. It was also interesting when you saw some moments from different points of views. When Clay is talking to Hannah at the party, he says she’s telling it all wrong on the tape. He remembers how awkward and uncool he was when trying to finally woo her, but she remembers how he put her and ease and made her feel comfortable despite being nervous. I think this capture how we shouldn’t be so fearful of talking to others because we people don’t always see you how you see you. Those things you replay in your head and feel mortified about are the things that made that interaction warm and lovely.
10. Unkind use of Social media/technology can be extremely harmful. When the picture of Hannah at the park get sent round the school mobiles, something extremely private and intimate becomes public property. Something which was meant to be fun and actually fairly innocent also becomes sordid and paints an image of Hannah that is very different to the reality. Pictures never tell the true or full story, so they allow people to make assumptions and judgements without the integral ingredient of contextual information. These scenes also highlight how fast these events can snowball. Technology has gifted us with the ability to do everything in an instant, which when put in the wrong hands can be extremely damaging, extremely quickly.
11. Parents don’t always get things right. When we were watching the series we kept squirming at how Clays mum dealt with his obvious deterioration in mental health and behaviour. From our point of view it was glaringly obvious that she was going about things the wrong way, and actually causing Clay not to want to open up. I think it’s a reality that parents find it extremely difficult to deal with some of the issues that arise as a a result of growing up in today’s modern world. They have no idea about social media and the impact it can have, or the pressures it puts on them/us. If they’ve been lucky enough to avoid mental issues themselves, they also don’t know what the right approach to dealing with that is either, often pushing too hard for the teenager to share with them rather than just building a relationship which lets the child know that they are a safe someone they can come to if needed. We can see how unhelpful Zac’s pushy mum’s constant boasting is. When she gushes about his achievements you can tell it doesn’t make him feel any better about himself. He’s looking for something else to give him that feeling of self worth…rewarding and real relationships for example.
12. Loyalties area a big deal in school. Despite the awful things that Bryce did to Jessica, Justin doesn’t feel he can do anything about it due to boy-code, school hierarchy and so on. We saw a lot of relationships suffer due to the betrayal felt due to a lack of loyalty too. When Jess and Alex started dating, ruining the balance of the trio they had with Hannah, you could tell she felt incredibly hurt. When Jess dated Justin, despite what he did to Hannah and Hannah warning her that he was bad that would have effected Hannah’s feeling of worth. Did her friendship or opinion have any influence at all? She may have thought. Tony was very loyal to Hannah’s final wishes, even when he had doubts about whether it was the right things to do. He also persevered with Clay, turning up ALL TIME TIME to check in with him and see that he was alright.
13. Teenagers/young adults are under so many different pressures these days. In the show you see a few characters discuss where they are going to go for College, Hannah’s decision made a bit more complicated by her deterioration in grades and her parents lack of money to pay for tuition. Not only are they contemplating their future and trying to work out what career path they should take and where to take it, they are juggling with changing bodies, having some of their first romantic relationships, worrying about social standing, finding out who they are and where they fit in. It’s a hell of a lot. Add-on top of that rumours, misunderstandings, violence, bullying, technology/social media….it’s not surprising that they feel completely overwhelmed.
So there’s a few themes/topics I think the show caused us to contemplate through the telling of this tragic story. I may be back with another 13 Reasons Why post, which may focus on what the show didn’t do right. There’s been a lot of talk about how damaging this show could be for vulnerable viewers and this is something I want to consider, as someone who suffers with mental health and who has previously had suicidal thoughts. I may be back with that if I feel up to it….