cutting storyline in '13 Reasons Why' is scary but
For most viewers of Netflixs 13 Reasons Why, the message is clear: Be kind, it could save a life. But that isnt what I watched.
Since its release on March 31, viewers have taken to Twitter and other social media platforms to proclaim their love for the show, stressing how important they think it is. Ive seen people go so far as to suggest it become required viewing for middle and high school students, despite the graphic displays of assault and, ultimately, suicide.
Ive dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts since middle school, about the younger age of 13 Reasons Whys audience. I never imagined logistics: razor blades cutting delicate skin, the quick violence of a gunshot. What I saw in my mind was crying peers and thousands of flowers and people wishing they had reached out to me. I didnt want pain; I wanted control. While watching the show, the bullying, assault and even the suicide itself didnt stand out to me. All I could focus on was the power the main character had after her death.
Thats no spoiler 13 Reasons Why opens with the aftermath of high school student Hannah Bakers suicide. Clay Jensen, Hannahs classmate and co-worker, receives 13 cassette tapes detailing the reasons Hannah killed herself. Hannah was bullied, assaulted and ignored while she was alive, but her death and the tapes she left behind changed that. She gained power through suicide, and thats a dangerous message.
People argue the show is important because it discusses suicide in a straightforward way that other shows havent. But for a supposedly important discussion of teen suicide, mental illness isnt explicitly mentioned in any of the 13 episodes. Hannah explains the reasons that caused her to commit suicide, but the show fails to acknowledge that 90% of people who commit suicide suffer from mental illness. While external circumstances such as bullying can contribute to suicide, the show misses the opportunity to discuss the underlying cause.
13 Reasons Why isnt dangerous only for depressed and suicidal teens. Where the show romanticizes the aftermath of suicide, it also blames everyone in Hannahs life.
While the characters mentioned in Hannahs cassette tapes should certainly be held accountable for their actions, the show misleads the viewer into believing there is someone to blame for suicide. The premise perpetuates the idea that there is always liability when someone commits suicide. One character even states: Well, we ALL killed Hannah Baker.
Friends of those who commit suicide already go through a sort of survivors guilt, whether they have a reason to or not. In many cases, they are Clays bystanders to bullying and depression. Clay isnt explicitly blamed in Hannahs tape. In her own words, Your name doesnt belong on this list. Youre good and kind and decent and I didnt deserve to be with someone like you. But though she says Clay cant be blamed, its clear the show is condemning him for never stepping in. He ends the show by admitting, I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her, and while an adult reminds him love cant save lives, the show ultimately agrees with Clays perspective.
Being kind isnt a bad message, but in the context of the show it becomes complicated. The last episode ends with Clay reaching out to Skye, a student similar to Hannah in many ways. It implies that by being kind, he is able to save her in the way he didnt save Hannah. Because the show doesnt discuss mental illness, this scene suggests that saving someone from suicide is as easy as a friendly gesture. Clay doesnt see suicidal warning signs and direct Skye to someone who actually can an adult who could make sure she sees a mental health professional. Instead, he presumably saves her just by being nice; thats not how suicide works.
There are no magic words or gestures that can make a suicidal person want to live. Teenagers should be aware of signs of depression and suicidal thoughts, but they shouldnt think their kindness can fix anyone. That idea prevents depressed teens from getting actual help and places an enormous weight on the shoulders of the people left behind.
In 13 Reasons Why, I dont see a daring and powerful teen drama. Its just a tired attempt at discussing a difficult topic. Its clear the creators see suicide only for its shock value, and I worry for the teens like me who will watch the show.
Jaclyn Grimm, 18, is a writer and high school student who lives in Orlando. Follow her on Twitter @grimmjac
storyline in '13 Reasons Why' is scary but true
In the final episode of Netflix's controversial teen hit 13 Reasons Why, we see a flashback of the show's dead protagonist Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) slitting her wrists in wrenching detail. The much talked about suicide scene is startlingly graphic, and while its creators call the explicit violence necessary, critics say it glamorizes suicide and can trigger those who struggle with suicidal thoughts.
But there's a barely talked about scene in the series that also shows a character who cuts her wrists, and in this case experts emphatically agree that it gets something very right about the behavior it depicts. The show's living protagonist, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), is arguing about Hannah's suicide with former friend Skye Miller (Sosie Bacon) when he sees what look like relatively fresh wounds at the edge of her sleeve.
"It's what you do instead of killing yourself," she explains.
Cutting is a form of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI), defined as the deliberate, self-inflicted destruction of body tissue, which experts say people often do to discharge painful emotions. The behavior has been around for nearly all of recorded history, though it remained a poorly understood phenomenon until a few decades ago. Other types of self-injury include burning, carving, picking at the skin, hitting and bone-breaking. Since self-harm is largely a hidden behavior, it's hard to gauge how prevalent it is, though Cornell University's Program on Self-Injury and Recovery says U.S. studies find self-injury ranges from 12% to 37% in adolescents and 12% to 20% in young adult populations, with cutting as the most common form. Skye's comments are accurate, experts say, because while cutting can look like a suicidal gesture, it's actually an anti-suicidal move.
"Suicide is what you do to end your life," said Lori Hilt, a psychology professor at Lawrence University in Wisconsin and an expert on nonsuicidal self-injury. "This is something you do to cope with it."
Why hurt yourself?
There are a variety of reasons why people say they self-injure. Many report sadness, anxiety or emotional numbness as triggers. Experts say the behavior can release a rush of endorphins the "feel-good" hormones. It makes the self-injurer feel better.
Stacey Freedenthal, a professor at the University of Denver who has worked extensively in crisis settings, says while self-harm used to be something people thought was connected to a mental health disorder, it is now understood as a method people use to help regulate anxiety, tension or unbearable pain.
"It's a way to stay alive," she said.
While research is not definitive, the International Society for the Study of Self-Injury says evidence suggests self-injury is only slightly more common in females than males, though Patricia Adler, co-author of the The Tender Cut: Inside the Hidden World of Self-Injury, says self-harm is still a gendered issue.
"Boys are taught to take their frustration out externally. Punch a tree. Punch a wall. Fight. Girls aren't socially conditioned to be aggressive like that, so they turn it in more," she says. "The culture of masculinity is much more geared toward ... outward behavior. Girls' social status is much more heavily tied to their appearance. ... A lot of times girls think if they can control their bodies, they can control themselves."
The pop-culture effect
Experts say cutting has likely crested as an epidemic, though the behavior is still common. In the past several centuries, Adler writes in The Tender Cut, self-injury was practiced largely among young, white, middle class women, but in the 1990s the behavior began to increase and expand to new populations as public awareness began to rise. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie talked about doing it. So did Princess Diana. The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on self-injury in 1997 called The Thin Red Line.
Adler said the more people knew about it, the more people tried it.
This social contagion which has been documented around self-harm and suicide has mental health experts concerned about the effect 13 Reasons Why may have on its audience.
The National Association of School Psychologists said in a statement, "We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies."
In response to the backlash, Netflix said it will add more trigger warnings.
Experts say depictions of these topics in the media in TV shows, movies, on the Internet must be careful. Psychologists say it's critical to communicate that suicide is often connected to a treatable mental illness. With cutting, it's important to emphasize that it isn't necessarily indicative of one.
"The goal is to try to understand cutting, because stigmatizing it and demonizing it doesn't help the people who need it to help themselves," Adler says.
How to help
Look for warning signs. Wearing long sleeves in warm weather can be a clue. Also look for changes in behavior that might indicate someone is becoming more isolated or withdrawn.
Validate the person. If someone you care about is self-injuring, it can be a hard conversation to start. You can open by simply saying,"It seems like you're in a lot of pain."
Create a safe atmosphere: It can be alarming as a parent to discover a child is engaging in self-harm, but try your best to get your child to open up by creating a safe atmosphere. In other words, don't freak out.
Ask questions about intent. Non-suicidal self-injury is a way of averting a desire to make a suicide attempt, and most people who self-injure are not suicidal. But the International Society for the Study of Self-Injury does consider self-harm a risk-factor for suicide, since evidence suggests those who have self-injured are more likely to attempt suicide. Don't use euphemisms, experts say, when asking about intent. If you want to know if someone is thinking about killing themselves, don't ask, "Are you thinking about hurting yourself?" Do ask, "Are you thinking about suicide?"
If you engage in self-harm, there are ways you can help yourself. Those with the urge to self-injure should try to distract themselves with a substitution behavior. Cornell University has different recommendations for different emotions.
If you're a member of the media, be responsible when covering or depicting suicide and self harm. Mental health organizations have concrete recommendations. Talk about treatment, prevention and alternate coping strategies. Make sure people understand there are resources to get help. Make sure they know they're not alone.
If you're thinking about suicide, you
can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at
1-800-273-8255. You can also text the Crisis Text Line at
741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor right
away. If you're thinking about self-harm, you can call
1-800-DONT-CUT or visit the Cornell
Research Program on Self-Injury and
Recovery for resources on