13 Reasons Why.... Or Why Not: A Therapist's Perspective


The craze and controversy surrounding Netflix's new original series 13-Reasons Why has been trending on social media, with teens, concerned parents, and professionals. After hearing so much about this show and it's portrayal of suicide due to bullying in high school- I had to watch it. 

There were a few reasons why this show sparked my interest.

1. As a clinician that works with children and teenagers, it was important to me to understand how this show portrayed bullying, mental health, and suicide. (Many of the clients that my agency works with were bringing it up in session). 

2. I wanted to see Hollywood's "spin" on these issues because of the power that media has over us and these types of issues.

3. This is hard to admit... But, I want to be authentic with readers and because I think that it is important to speak up about this:  I myself was bullied in high school. A part of me that still feels wounded from that time in my life was... Curious. Curious to see if a TV show could truly capture the pain and trauma that bullying can cause.  

I have seen many blogs, articles, and reviews written about this show- but I wanted to write this before reading any other articles or professional perspectives. I did, however, ask a few of my friends and colleagues about their personal reactions to the show as a way to understand the emotional impact that it had on others.

 It was important to me to share my genuine reaction and it has taken me a few day to really reflect on, understand and process my feelings after finishing Season 1. 

I wanted this post to be a balanced reflection of the positive and the negative aspects of this show.  From what I have heard people are very split either for or against it. Personally, I felt pulled in both directions. 

Bullying is an epidemic and it's about time we as a culture acknowledge it. 13-Reasons Why brought that to our attention in a way that can not be ignored. For that reason, I do not want to label this show as " all bad."

What struck me most about this show was the impact that it had not only on me but on everyone who watched it. I work at an agency that provides mental health services to teens in the Los Angeles Area and almost ALL of my clients watched the show... Finishing all of the Season in less than a week. 

To me that says something. Whether it is good or bad we will get into that later... There is no denying that this particular show, hit all of us so hard because it acknowledged something that we as a culture try to avoid and it did it in a way that close to home for many of us. 

It portrayed how cruel humans can be to each other, especially at such a vulnerable time in life like adolescence. It captured the reality and consequences of bullying in a way that is "in your face", ugly and traumatic to watch. 

It showed the truth of how parents, students, teachers and society minimize these issues, or even worse, are BLIND to them.  It's not easy to watch these things- it feels bad to think we "humans" can be so awful to each other.

BUT.. This stuff happens. This is the reality of millions of kids. This was my reality in high school and this is a truth that should no longer be ignored. 

However, as a mental health professional and someone who experienced bullying myself in high school, the way that the suicide of Hannah Baker (the main character) was portrayed left me feeling angry and fearful for children and teens who are watching this show. 

Here are some reasons that I find it concerning:

The Aspect Of Revenge: The whole show is based on tapes that Hannah made for each person who bullied her, looked the other way or minimized the severity of what was going on. After her suicide, each person who bullied her received all of the tapes, one-by-one hearing Hannah's perspective and what they did that lead her to kill herself. As the characters coped with the reality of their actions- some felt remorseful, guilty and haunted by their actions, a few turned to substance abuse to cope while others just worried about what would happen to themselves and their future if anyone found the tapes.

What worries me about this is that it glorifies "getting revenge" on bullies and makes it seem like if you kill yourself, you can get revenge on the people who hurt you, leaving them tournament and regretful of their actions. 

It is concerning to think of how children or teens may interpret this aspect of the show, especially if they are being bullied. 

Showing Hannah's Suicide: "Cutting" has become a common trend in middle schools and high schools all around the nation and can have potentially fatal consequences even if the intention was not necessarily suicide.  

In the show, Hannah commits suicide (by slitting her wrists and bleeding to death in a bathtub) was so realistically portrayed that I felt my own body go into a state of shock, which left me weak in the knees for probably 20-30 minutes. This scene was traumatic for me and I am a trained professional.

In fact, I couldn't stop thinking about it for at least 48-hours! Granted, I am an empath and sensitive to anything that shows blood or death, however, that that scene was not necessary to get the message of the show across and was carelessly placed there solely for "shock value." 

This can be extremely triggering not only for people who may be suicidal but also for family, friends or anyone who have lost someone to suicide. 

Lack Of Suicide Prevention Resources: Each episode should have suicide hotline contact information or resources at the beginning or end. It is unacceptable that theses resources were left out by the producers. 

Despite all of these major issues, I still believe that 13-Reasons Why is one of the most important shows on TV right now. It has catapulted teens, parents, school districts and mental health professionals to have important conversations about bullying and suicide.

These conversations often happen when it is too late and something tragic has happened. To me... That is not good enough. We need to be talking about it now, dealing with the painful reality and raising children that are taught to be empathetic towards others from the day they enter the school system. 

Mental health, empathy, education about feelings and coping skills should be incorporated into the curriculum of schools. These things are JUST as, if not MORE important than academic, critical thinking and test taking. 

This is how we create a cohort of healthier, emotionally attune and compassionate children who will make this world a better place.  

We have to start placing our value in the things that actually matter and we have to start now.