13 Reasons Why and Suicide Prevention at Latin

Eleanor Pontikes As a therapist, I have big concerns about the show. Latin counselor, Ms. Lawrence, is referring here to the hit Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why. Released at the end of March, the series developed a large viewership among Latin students almost immediately. The basic premise of the show revolves around the death of Hannah Baker, a high school student who committed suicide and left behind 13 tapes to a select group of people, each tape explaining a reason why she killed herself. The reasons range from rape to cyber bullying, but one thing about them is shared: each tape elicits morbid curiosity among the characters in the show and also those watching on screens. But this is troublesome to mental health professionals like Ms. Lawrence. The series draws in viewers with a thriller, horror-like quality that each episode manifests. And throughout every episode–or side of a tape–the viewer is wondering what was the reason that Hannah killed herself or who was responsible for her death. As the show progresses, the suspense about Hannahs death only grows, creating a harmful depiction of mental illness and suicide. There is nothing suspenseful about suicide,Ms. Lawrence says. It just sucks. 13 Reasons Why also perpetuates other myths about depression and suicide through its manipulative portrayal of Hannah. Her desire with the tapes is to expose certain people in her life and their actions to the whole community. But, the purpose of the tapes is not in line with most suicides. Ms. Lawrence informed me that, Most suicide victims blame themselves for their depression, not others. The reality is that most people arent thinking of people.By portraying Hannah in this manipulative way, she becomes a perpetrator instead of a victim, and the storyline omits the pain and suffering experienced by most suicidal people. Unfortunately, the sensationalizing of suicide in 13 Reasons Why sells, demonstrating an even bigger problem with western society. Ms. Lawrence notes that its hard for the entertainment industry to convey suicide accurately. Suicide is bleak and dark, two traits that dont draw in viewers. When Ms. Lawrence and I sat down to talk about the show, we both had trouble thinking of a TV show or movie that handled the topic of suicide well. We were also frustrated that producers of the show, namely Selena Gomez, had the opportunity to educate and correct misconceptions about mental illness and suicide, but glamorized them instead. The aftermath of the show is potentially dangerous as well because of its accessibility to younger children through Netflix and the possibility that its message will lead to copycat behavior among teens and young adults. Perhaps the silver lining to the shows popularity and controversy is that it might spark debate in the entertainment industry and at high schools and colleges around the nation. While Latin offers education about mental health through Affective Ed, Junior stress level meetings, and parent talks, mental health is hardly an issue casually brought up in conversation. Ms. Lawrence said she would never use the show as an educational tool for students to watch, but that the buzz of the show provides an ample opportunity to strike to debunk myths the show perpetuates and provides an outlet for open discussion of a difficult subject. Therefore, on Thursday, May 4, at 7:30am, there will be an open breakfast for interested students to discuss 13 Reasons Why. ]]>