**Review may contain spoilers and/or triggers**
As a therapist (in residency), I frequently heard about the show “13 Reasons Why.” Mostly, I heard about this show from my adolescent clients—and even they had a wide range of opinions on whether the show was appropriate or not. Some arguments supported the show, emphasizing how it helps others to understand the experiences depicted in the show (cutting, suicide, rape, depression, bullying…to name a few). Others shared how the show had been a trigger for them, relighting temptations for them to explore suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors.
1 – The content is explicit
As a Netflix Original show, it does not abide by typical television rules and restrictions. There are several episodes depicting intense, traumatic events including rape and suicide. This might be a reason not to watch the show, or to allow your child to watch it. Sometimes viewing content like this can teach how to engage in these activities (imagine someone wanting to kill herself and watching how Hannah slits her wrists; or a young person who wants sex at whatever the cost—watching how a guy forces himself on girls to obtain this same goal.) Also imagine the teens who have been raped or who have attempted suicide being triggered by these scenes. This can be dangerous as well.
2 – The content depicts real-life struggles for teens
While Hannah seems to experience every type of struggle faced by teens, the show does cover a wide range of triggers and teen experiences. Whether a parent wants to face it or not, the show depicts true types of experiences. In my counseling office I heard teens share about how they had been raped, bullied, isolated, teased, and in other ways cut off from positive social supports. I also heard clients tell me how they were the bullies, going as far as threatening and acting on threats which could cause life damaging harm to others. The content itself is not exaggerated, even if it may be an exaggeration for a typical teen to experience all that Hannah did (not to discount that some teens experience far more and far worse).
3 – The point of the show may have caused more damage than good
The overall theme of the show focuses on how the people around Hannah are to blame for her feelings of hopelessness. I believe the goal of the show was to increase suicide awareness and motivate people to intervene when they see suicidal signs in others. Unfortunately, Hannah’s tapes blame her peers and her counselor for her suicide. This is a mistake. No one’s suicide is the fault of another’s. The severity of Hannah’s blame on her peers even led to one of them attempting suicide—although this peer’s “crime” was one of the lowest.
Despite the depth of Hannah’s feelings and her despair, she is the only one to blame for her suicide. No one made her do it. Secondly, several people throughout the show did indeed reach out to her and try to help (although she claimed they didn’t). Hannah rejected them and blamed them. She experienced some pretty tough stuff, but ultimately she was the one who chose to cope with it by killing herself. When she does reach out to her counselor for help, she refuses to give him the needed information for him to do anything with her sexual assault report nor does she explicitly state she is suicidal, even when directly asked. Also, imagine if she had gone to her mom or dad and expressed her despair, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts. They would have jumped to helped their daughter. Hannah never did a good job of advocating for herself—-and this should have been the focus of show, not that her peers, counselor, teachers, and parents failed her.
Should you or should you not watch “13 Reasons Why”? If you are stable and interested in watching the struggles many teens face, sure, why not. If you have unresolved trauma, abuse, or depression in your past, seriously consider the benefit vs. the harm of watching a show full of triggers. Make sure you have a support system (trusted family, adults, peers) who you can and will go to if you are triggered; and include in there a professional counselor if you have not yet worked through these issues.
Before you watch, ask yourself why. Why do I want to watch this show? What am I looking for? Can I find this somewhere else? Is there someone who will support me if I am triggered? And will I be brave enough to reach out to that person?
Don’t make the same mistake Hannah did. Reach out. Your life is in your hands.