Guest column by Olivia Ducharme, junior creative writing major
Netflix’s series “13 Reasons Why” conveys some of the most important aspects of mental health, suicide, hyper-sexualization of teenagers and sexual assault in some of the most problematic ways. I, like so many others, got sucked into the series less than a week after its release and found myself more distraught than I ever expected to be. I binge-watched all 13 episodes in two days and was so sucked into Hannah’s head, into Clay’s world and the detrimental high school setting of bullying run amok, that I had a hard time waking up for class the next day. Though with it’s cliched driving off to the sunset, chilling out with friends and the happy music playing, I found it to be disturbing, to say the least, and that is the main issue with the series.
Two and a half years ago, I was in the same place as Hannah, only I was in college. I was 19, and at a different university while suffering from clinical depression, and was dumping alcohol on top of it to numb the pain. I had earned a reputation of being a party girl because I had been hanging out with boys from several different fraternities on that campus. Rumors began to fly that I was being a flirt, and my girlfriends disappeared from my side because they had crushes on whichever guy I had been seen talking to.
I tried to explain that nothing had happened, I wasn’t sleeping with them, but that didn’t change the fact that on my 20th birthday, I was receiving phone calls asking, “Did you sleep with (fill-in-the-blank)?” rather than birthday wishes. I was heartbroken. These were supposed to be my friends, the ones who helped me cope with my first year of college when I was 500 miles away from home, the ones I thought were my new home. Instead, I was the campus slut, and no longer in on the group chats. I felt a heaviness on my chest that lingered for the next few months.
I wanted to die. Not because of the rumors, not because my friends had turned on me, but because I was sick. I was battling demons they never saw and they weren’t helping my mental wars. I identified with Hannah on that level, but I had the benefit of a loving family who was watching my suffering. My mother asked how school was going over Thanksgiving break of 2014, and I began sobbing. I wasn’t getting out of bed, eating or sleeping. I had lost 30 pounds and had no energy. How was school even feasible? She knew there was something more sinister than school stresses. She brought me home and monitored every part of my life. This wasn’t resolved by jumping into a convertible and playing happy music. There wasn’t a cute ending. I stopped talking to those girls and still don’t to this day. I go to therapy and take pills every day. I was watched as I ate three meals a day, and was checked on that I was sleeping through the night. Where was that, Netflix?
“13 Reasons Why” showcased every issue I dealt with while feeling suicidal; it showcased what most young people deal with in schools at all levels. I was so happy to see a representation of mental health on such a broad level, but Netflix instead glorified it. They made the show into the suicide revenge fantasy. I can’t deny that the potential satisfaction of completing that is so real when coping with suicide and depression. I wanted the last word, I wanted to prove I was a human being, not just a label. But I knew I couldn’t let them win. Netflix shows Hannah letting them win. The bullies got her.
The night I finished the series, I watched her suicide and felt my stomach churn. It flipped and I rolled over in my bed, trying to un-see what was burned into my brain. Instead, I could hear the blade on flesh and ran to the restroom. I vomited on an empty stomach and sat in the bathroom sweating, wondering if this is the pain I put my mother through. They created a platform for a “how-to” guide on suicide. The show is rated TV-MA and several of the episodes have warnings of graphic scenes, including the final episode. Yet everyone is raving about the series for its entertainment value.
There are memes floating around about Chipotle charging extra for guacamole and Hannah’s key phrase “welcome to your tape” following it. She uses the phrase to tell all 13 of her reasons (the people) why she ended her life. There were people begging for the second season, wanting to know if her reasons get punished, if her parents win the lawsuit, if the boy who raped her gets locked up, but that isn’t the point. The issue with a cult following is that the main points are glossed over. People craved the bowtie ending of Clay with his friends driving down the coast, and Netflix missed such an amazing opportunity to show the rawness of mental health.
Depression, suicide and sexual assault need to be uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be easy to discuss, and it shouldn’t be a form of entertainment. Stop asking for a second season, stop posting memes. Think about the demons so many battle before throwing lighter fluid and matches at them.