“13 Reasons Why” Addresses Teenage Suicide and Encourages Empathy
By: Daisy Murguia
Why did Hannah Baker kill herself? This is the central mystery the Netflix show “Thirteen Reasons Why” tries to answer. Hannah made 13 tapes before she committed suicide, which were meant to be mailed to all the individuals who contributed to her decision. The series tries to show us the effects of what rumors, aggressions and bullying can do to teens, who have one of the highest suicide rates among any group in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death between the ages of 10 and 24. “13 Reasons Why” can help us better understand what crosses a young person’s mind when they see suicide as the only way out.
The show creates a conversation around suicide and suicide prevention. In America, schools do not take responsibility for the bullying that leads to a student’s suicide. Instead of finding solutions, most school administrators cover up their carelessness and say that the student who committed suicide was simply “troubled.” This happens to Hannah and “13 Reasons Why” points out this problem.
One of the main goals of the show is to prove just how important individual actions can be and how we can affect people in daily interactions. In her small town high school, many people spread false rumors that Hannah was easy, changing the way everyone saw her, talked to her and even how they acted toward her. To high schoolers swept up in their own lives, it did not seem like a big deal to perpetuate rumors and ostracize her, but to Hannah it mattered and she eventually lost all her “friends” because of it. After her death, suicide prevention posters were placed around the school, but her friend Clay was angry about that they were only reacting after it was too late. The posters had not been there before, and there were not many resources in their high school that could have helped Hannah. The school only reacted after tragedy happened, and were not proactive about preventing problems.
One of the hardest scenes in the entire series is when we are explicitly shown Hannah’s suicide. It’s painful to watch, because we’ve come to understand just how hurt and helpless Hannah felt. We finally see the culmination of everything that happened to her and what led her to this point. Another important part of the scene is when Hannah’s mom finds her dead, showing the pain suicide causes. Hannah’s parents, in shock and disbelief, call the paramedics even though she was completely unresponsive because they did not want to believe that she was dead.
Amidst the message of compassion and anti-bullying, the series has complex characters who are very human. Even those who hurt Hannah are given a redeeming side. Even those who appear to be “nice” and “perfect” make mistakes. Also, the levels of culpability of the individuals in the tapes vary greatly. Some of the people she blamed did not even know that what they had done was wrong. Others definitely knew they were hurting Hannah, but did not care. It shows us that not everyone was inherently bad, but they did make bad decisions. The show even portrays Hannah herself making mistakes.
Ultimately, Hannah makes the choice to commit suicide, but her reasons why are important. False rumors changed how others saw her and they affected her life immensely. It is easy for some of the characters blamed to rid themselves of responsibility and say that it was her choice to commit suicide, but doing so invalidates the Hannah’s pain and, generally, the pain that victims and others who commit suicide feel.
The saddest part is that Hannah almost saw a way out. It shows us that every little thing we do matters. If someone had just been her friend, if she felt someone was there to anchor her, maybe she would have still been alive. We never know what others are going through and how necessary it is for them to know that someone cares for them.
The show ends with a hopeful message: When will we all be kinder to each other? When will we build each other up instead of tearing each other down? The show is important because it lets us try to understand what leads someone into committing suicide. There is so much pain that leads someone into seeing suicide as the only way out, but we must understand why they do it so we can create solutions.
If you find yourself relating to any of the feelings discussed in this article, please do not hesitate to contact the UCI Counseling Center at 949-824-6457 or see them on campus at 203 Student Services 1.