Warning: The piece below may upset some readers.
OPINION: It would be an understatement to say 13 Reasons Why has caused controversy.
I cannot scroll through my Facebook feed without seeing the title flash up on my screen.
I’ve read almost every article that I’ve come across about the show and the opinions differ dramatically.
From people applauding the show to people being terrified of it.
* What I learnt from watching 13 Reasons Why with my teenage son
* 13 Reasons Why glorifies suicide
* 13 Reasons Why: A reality check
* 13 Reasons Why prompts warnings
I couldn’t help but notice that majority of the articles that warn of the show are written by concerned parents, teachers or experts.
As if, once again, they need to step in and tell us what we can and can’t handle.
As a young person and a suicide survivor, I fall into this Red Zone.
The category of people everyone is worried about.
Supposedly, if I watch the show, it might make me want to kill myself.
Well, I feel the need to give my opinion.
Is that OK? Because I am getting pretty sick of being spoken for, by people who have no first-hand experience in the topic of suicide.
I guarantee you at the bottom of this article will be links and numbers to numerous mental health and suicide prevention organisations.
Why? Because I am talking to you about suicide.
Because people seem to think if you talk about suicide to young people then you run the risk of them making an attempt on their life.
I am not denying there is evidence around suicide contagion, however, the idea that there should be absolutely no discussion or exploration of suicide in media seems slightly absurd and may in itself be harmful.
Turning suicide into a “taboo” subject creates a stigma around suicide that has been around for far too long.
I feel this stigma is the underlying current of the hysteria that has been building up since the show’s release.
A series about suicide for a younger audience is like planting a bomb for protective parents.
Adults, it’s time to stop sweeping suicide under the rug.
We have the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world.
If concerned adults are unhappy with how suicide is being portrayed in the show and then being discussed by young people, what alternatives do you suggest? Obviously, your tactic of avoidance has not worked out well for us.
We need to talk about this.
What we need you to understand is that suicide is not a light-hearted choice.
It takes time and an indescribable amount of sadness.
You would first need to break as a human being.
The road to suicide is not paved with brick.
It has mountains and cliffs and even road works sometimes when things get a little better in life.
Sometimes people turn around and walk back the other way, sometimes they run towards the end, sometimes they wander around in the middle for a time.
It is different for everyone.
But all the while suicidal people fight to live.
You only see Hannah’s choice to kill herself, I see every day that she didn’t.
Even on the last day of her life Hannah went to the counsellor. She still tried to stay.
No one wants to die, not really. We want the pain to stop. We want a way out.
But even when the house is on fire and we have nothing but a cup of water in our hands to help we still tell ourselves “you can do this”.
But we can only fight for so long and maybe eventually we reach a moment where we give up.
And it only takes a moment. Then it’s too late.
You can choose to die once but you choose to live every day.
There is a lot of talk around the show planting the idea of suicide for revenge, which is a stretch.
That’s the stigma talking.
Hannah’s tapes are perceived as her revenge.
The characters who receive the tapes wallow in their guilt throughout the season, Alex even goes as far to try and take his own life in the final episode.
Because of this there is a lot of hatred towards the character of Hannah.
People point the finger at her and say “how could she do such a horrible thing?”.
Hannah is human. Hannah is flawed.
Just because Hannah is dead does not mean that she is some kind of saint.
But Hannah’s tapes may not have been intended for revenge.
Perhaps Hannah just wanted to be heard.
Perhaps she just needed them to finally understand.
Taking your life for revenge is unrealistic for Hannah.
She wasn’t that petty.
Hannah took her life because she felt she had nothing left to live for.
She was broken from everything that happened.
To intend those tapes for revenge takes anger and anger was not something she would have had.
If she was angry she wouldn’t have killed herself.
Because to do something as violent as she did, requires no emotion at all.
It’s a very quiet, disconnected, trance-like state of mind. You aren’t really there at all when you do it.
Your brain blocks you out.
As you could tell by Hannah’s dead and emotionless expression before she climbed into the bath.
Hannah is just a girl that makes a bad choice.
Hannah would not have foreseen all the havoc she left in her wake after her death.
She would not have thought of Clay, or her mother or the bullies at school.
She would have just seen the act of suicide.
Nothing exists after that because, for Hannah, she would no longer exist.
You do not care about the consequences of your death because well, you would be dead.
It’s no longer your problem.
It does sound incredibly selfish. It is. But it’s understandable.
You are so wrapped up in your own misery that you cannot fathom anyone else’s.
To hate Hannah for what she did is missing the point.
The show isn’t about revenge suicide and justice.
It’s about how the little things add up, how someone can even become suicidal.
How we as bystanders, friends and family may influence that.
There is a sympathy storm around Clay. I don’t understand it.
When I see Clay I don’t see a victim, I see a bystander.
I don’t think being a bystander makes you a bad person, because Clay clearly isn’t.
But it does make you a weak one.
When you are getting bullied and no one is there to stand up for you but yourself, it’s incredibly isolating.
Their silence acts as encouragement to the bullies by turning a blind eye to their behaviour.
As we see with Hannah, it’s the seemingly little things that can have a big impact.
When I look back to the months leading up to my attempt I don’t see the bullies I had.
I see my friends who said nothing, the teachers who ignored, the class mates who watched.
All of them had the power to stop it, or to at least influence other people to help stop it.
But none of them did.
Clay ultimately and unintentionally let Hannah down as a friend which is why he felt so guilty.
As for Courtney, the only character that never really accepted the guilt, I applaud.
Courtney was one of the most realistic characters.
She made excuses for her behaviour.
She didn’t accept Hannah’s truth because she didn’t believe it was as accurate as hers.
Courtney is hated for this by fans of the show but is she right? We remember things differently than others because we are different, and we create different narratives.
The same situation can be perceived multiple ways.
We don’t like to remember the bad things we have done, so like Courtney, we make excuses.
Accepting that kind of guilt would destroy a person, like it did Alex.
It’s easier to ignore the blame so we can go on living.
I can guarantee the people that influenced my decision to take my life have no idea of the part they played.
For all I know, I could have played a part in someone else’s.
That’s what I thought about when I watched the show.
How others affect us and how we affect them. How easily something so awful can happen. How we need to treat others better.
I have heard that it was unfair of Hannah to put Bryce on the tapes with the others.
As if they are at the same awful standard as a rapist. They’re not.
But it isn’t about who is the most evil, it’s about how each of them played a part.
Hannah had a lot to lose at the beginning of the tapes.
And for each tape something was taken from her by the person on the tape.
Whether it be her reputation, friendships, or her privacy.
For Hannah, losing her friendship with Jessica would have felt like the sky was falling down, it was a big part of her happiness.
By the time Bryce came along Hannah had almost nothing.
Bryce took her body and broke the last piece of her.
Even after the rape Hannah still held on for a reason to stay.
Still holding on to that cup of water in that burning house.
She went to see the counsellor as a last-ditch effort.
He failed her.
Which resonated with me. School staff are just people. They don’t have all the answers.
They’re just fumbling through life just like the rest of us.
He was a counsellor but he was uneducated on suicide (just like a lot of teachers in New Zealand are).
That’s something we as a country need to change.
We need to focus on educating people, not censoring a TV show because we want to ignore the issue.
When I was watching the show I was afraid of how the suicide scene would go.
But I was relieved when I finally saw it.
There was no sad music playing, no shielding away from the act.
It was raw and painful and ugly.
It wasn’t romantic; they did not glorify her suicide.
For that I am grateful.
I have spoken to a few other survivors I know about the show and they all say the same thing – that they love it.
Yes, it’s heartbreaking to watch and yes it brings up emotions.
But it doesn’t make us want to go try kill ourselves again.
We don’t see Hannah’s revenge in the tapes and the guilt her bullies felt as a “how to guide”.
If anything we feel guilty.
When I see Hannah’s parents I see mine. I see the pain that I caused them and people like Clay.
But we also feel lucky. Lucky to have lived.
Hannah’s life never got better because she ended it. Mine did.
Watching 13 Reasons Why was upsetting, but only because I knew Hannah’s life would have gotten better if she had survived.
For us the show is a victory. Finally, our voices have been heard. Finally, it’s got suicide out there in the open.
People are talking about it, really talking about it.
No longer is it simply about “seeking help if you are feeling suicidal”.
It shows what it’s like to be suicidal. How it can happen. How it feels.
It exposes all the ugly details that up until now people have been afraid to voice.
I was told not to watch the show. I was told it would “trigger” me.
I am not the only one.
Why is it that everyone is speaking on the behalf of people like me? Do we not have a voice? To say something as simple as a TV show would trigger someone to take their life is quite frankly insulting.
Suicide is not that easy to jump to.
To imply that it is, is not only ignorant but extremely offensive. It undermines the pain we went through.
To tell us not to watch it undermines us.
We are not landmines waiting to explode. We are capable of making our own choices.
If we think the show would trigger us, then we wouldn’t watch it.
That’s our choice. Not yours.
I am tired of being spoken for like a young child.
Mental illness doesn’t take away our intelligence. We can speak for ourselves.
This show has finally lifted the curtain on suicide.
Something that has always been a “taboo” topic.
Suicide has always been treated like a dirty word.
Something to whisper or reword as a euphemism.
In doing so it makes us feel dirty. Like we should be ashamed.
By not talking about it, it makes us not want to talk about it.
To admit that we are not OK is somehow a weakness. It stops kids coming forward to seek help.
They would rather suffer alone then go through the “embarrassment” of admitting they are suicidal.
If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t used the term “commit suicide” in this article.
It is a terrible term to use.
“Committing” as if one is committing a crime like rape or murder.
If it was then wouldn’t that make people like me a criminal? Suicide is not a crime it’s a tragedy.
13 Reasons Why has opened the floodgates on discussing suicide. It’s time to stop fighting the current.
We need to stop the stigma and we need to talk about suicide. Really talk about suicide.
We can’t help with what we do not understand.
This show helps change that.
Young people want to understand suicide; the show ratings prove that.
The show is a hit.
This is a scary change for many parents but I believe it is a good change.
I wish this show had aired when I was younger, perhaps I would have felt more comfortable voicing how I was feeling.
I fall in to the category of people that others are scrambling in front of trying to protect from the show.
But I don’t need protecting.
Other survivors I know say they don’t need protecting.
We literally survived death; we can survive a TV show.
If you haven’t already seen 13 Reasons Why you should go watch it. Talk about it. Talk to people you are worried about.
Talk to people if you are worried about yourself.
We’ve been silent on this topic for far too long.
The author’s name has been changed to protect her identity. She is 19.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
0800 WHATSUP children’s helpline – phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.
Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).