Mental Health Police: Thirteen Reasons Why You Should Stop

CW: The following article deals with themes portrayed in Thirteen Reasons Why including mental health, suicide and sexual assault. Please read on at your discretion.

Have you seen it yet? What tape are you up to? Have you seen Clay’s tape yet? HAVE YOU SEEN CLAY’S TAPE YET?!

Whether you’ve actually seen it or not I’m sure that by now everyone is at least familiar with Netflix’s latest hit Thirteen Reasons Why. It follows the story of Clay as he comes to terms with the death of his close friend Hannah, who has left behind a series of tapes explaining why she chose to kill herself. Some have loved it, some have hated it, and some have made memes about it. No matter what your feelings are on the show, we can all agree that it deals with some pretty intense issues often shied away from by big production companies, which is great to see.

However I have noticed a fair amount of articles and blog posts surfacing about the themes in the show that made me wrinkle my nose. There have been several experts that have come forward to criticise the show for a very graphic (too graphic?) suicide scene, which is a very valid criticism and one for a separate discussion. But I do have growing concerns about the online chatter that criticises the depiction of mental illness and trauma throughout the show. I know people who have spoken out about how they relate to the show, only to be quickly shot down by others who say that the show’s depiction of mental illness does not reflect reality.

Picture: Netflix ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’

And that’s not right.

I feel like an ugly trend has been developing where we police each other’s health. We saw it back in 2015 when the #effyourbeautystandards movement was taking off. So many people trying to reclaim their self-worth were shut down by those who made assumptions about the health of plus-size people. They were policing the health of their bodies, insisting people were putting their lives at risk just by trying to love themselves. Even recently Tess Holiday, the creator of the #effyourbeautystandards movement, was fat-shamed by her Uber driver who was policing her for what he perceived as bad health.

But now it seems that we are also policing people for their mental health. Thirteen Reasons Why and the subsequent discussion have brought this to a head, with people attacking each other online over the accuracy of the portrayal of Hannah’s mental health. Besides severe disappointment (really guys? This is the hill you wanna die on?) I was also shocked. People were trying to delegitimise the experiences of others based on a television show.

Hasn’t the negative stigma surrounding mental health done that enough? Do we really need to be contributing to the mystification of mental health by suggesting that only one version of trauma exists? Who are we to dictate how a rape victim should feel and behave after the fact? Do we really want to tell each other the correct way to experience depression and PTSD?

Because the answer should be no, guys.

Of course the show does not mention Hannah’s mental health specifically; we cannot know for certain if Hannah suffered from anxiety, depression or PTSD resulting from the constant and extreme bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. The show has been criticised for not tackling these issues head on, but I actually thought this was a purposeful statement. We don’t have to label someone’s health in order to recognise the different signs and symptoms; a person does not need to walk around with a sign that says ‘depression’ in order to have depression.

There are serious problems with diagnosis in mental health. A lot of people remain undiagnosed for their serious and very treatable illnesses for all kinds of reasons. Some people are ashamed, some people deny that there is anything wrong, and some people just don’t realise that what they are feeling isn’t healthy. I felt that by not labelling Hannah with a specific mental illness, the show was emulating reality: people often do not reach out for a diagnosis for many of the reasons discussed in the show.

Picture: Netflix ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’

Instead of handing her a sign that says ‘depression’ or ‘PTSD’, Hannah is living out these conditions. We can connect the bullying and sexual harassment to her deepening depression. We can connect her stillness and fear following her rape to trauma and PTSD. We can hear her descriptions of feeling empty and recognise that Hannah has some mental health issues that she needs help working through.

Is the show suggesting that their depiction is an entirely accurate depiction of mental health? No. Is the show suggesting that their depiction is the only way of experiencing mental illness? No. At the same time it is not showing every aspect of mental illness. It’s a television show, and while it has a certain duty to treat the subject material with care and respect, it does not claim to be an authority on the issue.

Because it isn’t.

People can experience mental illness in the same way that Hannah does. I myself really related to Hannah, and saw my own experiences, thoughts and behaviours from my years with depression emulated in the character of Hannah. At the same time people can experience mental illness differently to Hannah. Some people get angry. Some people get sad. Some people self-harm and some don’t. The point is that everyone is different and we are all just trying to work through our mental health issues.

I am not a doctor, I am not an expert. But I feel that common sense tells us that people can experience illness and suffering in different ways. Just because someone experiences their depression differently to you does not make either of your experiences any less valid. It just means you are different.

So just be kind to each other. Help each other. And if you need a reason why you shouldn’t shut down someone who is trying to confide their feelings in you, just because your experience was different – I can think of thirteen.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from mental illness, contact SANE, the National Mental Health Charity Helpline on 1800 187 263 or Lifeline, a 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention service on 13 11 14.

Feature Image Source: Netflix ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’

11 thoughts on “Mental Health Police: Thirteen Reasons Why You Should Stop

  1. Great post, I haven’t watch it yet. Don’t know if I will, bit too close to the bone maybe? There’s a great 2 part documentary on BBC at the moment, Mind over Marathon following 10 people who are dealing with mental health issues. There are training to run the London marathon, but that’s not main thing. They all describe their various mental issues so eloquently. And I have experienced this…where people think “she’s just odd” One minute you are completely sociable and then paralysed by a free floating fear and absolutely cannot face people. Well worth a look, especially for people who have friends or family dealing with mental health issues that want to understand them a bit better. Thanks again for the post S.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow, so, this totally made me rethink some of my thoughts in an upcoming post about this. One of the things that bothered me about the show is that while I related to Hannah’s feelings, I wanted the label to be explicit. But you make a totally valid point that really made me question the way I was thinking about it. Because ultimately, her not having a label means that more people can relate to her experiences. Thanks for sharing this and inspiring me to think critically about my own views!

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  3. I appreciate everyone’s different opinions on this book/series. I have only watched the series. I, personally, found it to romanticise Hannah as a character (naturally, told through the eyes of Clay) and her suicide, which to me seems dangerous. I also found the concept of somebody leaving tapes behind blaming people for their suicide quite offensive (as somebody who suffers from depression) and bizarre. To me this story perpetuates an idea that suicide has somebody to blame, rather than being a tragic result of mental illness (of course Hannah’s situation was aggravated by the horrible acts of SOME of the characters, but some of them really didn’t deserve to be attacked in the way they were, such as Jessica who Hannah allowed to be raped while she was in the room?). My issue is not that there is no formal diagnosis as such, just the way Hannah as a character is portrayed as this incredibly desirable girl who every guy wants. I have no intention of policing other people’s mental health, I just personally think this depiction could potentially do more harm than good. As I always say about this, I hope I’m wrong. I hope young people don’t take the wrong message away from this and I hope that there won’t be a string of “copycat” (a word I’m not too fond of) attempts as a result. It’s interesting for me to read other people’s perspectives though 🙂

    https://tenmoreminutesblog.wordpress.com/

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  4. I really don’t know very much about this. It seems to me to be controversial and that is always what this kind of programme relies on to get an audience, and that is problematic in itself

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  5. Absolutely love how you have worded this. You have really hit the nail on the head; people have been totally unfair on the show and I agree that it is an accurate representation of the decline of mental health. I also feel like the criticisms really miss the point of the show.
    Keep doin what you’re doing and spreading the word!

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  6. GOOSEBUMPS. Thank you!! I am so tired of seeing “13 reasons is glorifying suicide”….”!3 reasons is dangerous to our youth” BLAH BLAH BLAH. As a sexual abuse survivor and being treated like Hannah’s character all through high school, the show may not have HELPED me but i did feel validated. I also truly appreciated the show calling out the boys. (how they view and treat women and how they shouldn’t for a second believe that they are entitled to whatever or whomever.) Love this post! ❤

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  7. Wow, awesome post, I had to reblog to lookingforthelightblog.wordpress.com. The collaboration is the genius of several voice sharing their reality. Thank you Nicole for following me, I now follow you and would like to get to know you better. We share many of the shame issues, from a surface glance. Are you in England? I love feedback good or so-so, you’re out spoken, I look forward to hearing your voice on my blog.
    🙂
    M

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