Like thousands of other viewers, I’ve recently finished Thirteen Reasons Why and I was left reeling. While watching the show, I promised myself that I would write a blog about it. After taking some time to process my thoughts as well as hear from others, this is my response.
Be prepared for spoilers.
Thirteen Reasons Why (13RW) is a show based on a Young Adult book by Jay Asher that was published in 2008. In 13RW, a high school girl named Hannah Baker makes the decision to commit suicide. Prior to her death she records seven cassette tapes that details every reason she killed herself. The story follows protagonist Clay Jensen, a shy boy that seemed to know her, as he listens to her voice detailing accounts of bullying, sexual assault, and irreparable loneliness.
Removing my professional hat, Thirteen Reasons Why is excellent entertainment. It is well produced and well casted. In fact, it is so well done, that there will be a season 2. I believe this with some caveats. I would not recommend this show lightly. For many, I’ve learned, 13RW opens up a lot of old wounds and triggers that some might not have realized they had. For those who have not watched the show, I have one thought:
Please take the warnings seriously, especially if you have dealt with some of the issues the show portrays.
My ultimate favorite line in the show comes from Tony when he and Clay are playing volleyball. Loosely, he tells Clay, “you never know how your words will effect someone”. Of all the themes in 13RW, this simple sentence is what the show is about. We will never know how our words and actions impact the people around us.
It’s not until after Hannah is dead that people realize just how much she is hurting, which is, quite frankly unfair. There isn’t a chance for Alex, Zach, Sheri, or even Clay and Hannah to right the things that have gone wrong. Hannah’s untimely death doesn’t leave room for a second chance. That’s not to say it’s unrealistic. 13RW, is not a unique story, unfortunately. Bullying, self-harm and sexual assault, unfortunately, are common occurences. 13RW calls attention to the topics that people seem to generally shy away from discussing in such a public way. Thousands of adolescents struggle with being bullied, with being victims of assault, and the pain of growing up in general. Every day, there is a person honestly contemplating suicide because the pain their hold in their heart is greater than the hope that things will get better.
With that, I’ve decided to write notes to the characters that left the greatest impact on me.
Kevin Porter (The School Counselor): People don’t go into counseling for the money; they go into the field with the strong belief that they can make a difference in the lives of others, and I strongly believe this is who you are. You wanted to make a difference for the student body you served, however, you did not seem to have enough experience in mental health, which is different than in-school success. Yes, you managed to miss the signs that Hannah gave you, her flat affect, her hopelessness, and her suicidal ideation, and you failed to take the next appropriate steps.
After the tragedy of Hannah’s death, you and your principal should have offered grief counselors to your student body so they could work through their grief and shock with a trained professional instead of you being the one to work out of your scope of practice.
Still, I’d like to believe that while people can’t come back, everyone can learn from their mistakes. I believe that you should be a warning to other counselors and mental health professionals out there: always follow the signs, and if you feel uneasy about a person, say and/or do something. Never keep it to yourself.
Alex Standall, Zach Dempsey, and Sheri Holland: I do not doubt you are good kids. You want what everyone wants: to know they are loved and accepted for who they are without pretense. Each of you made life-altering mistakes, and nothing will change that, and that does not make you a bad person. What your mistakes and words make you is human.
It is not your fault that Hannah chose to end her life, though her tapes might have suggested otherwise. In an ideal world, we would always say and do the right thing, but we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where life altering mistakes happen. Sometimes we get the chance to fix them, and sometimes we don’t, and that’s the bittersweet truth of learning and growing. I hope you have the chance to continue to learn and grow, and I hope you learn from your past.
Clay Jensen: Oh Clay. It was incredibly painful watching you go through those tapes, tormented by the fear that you did something wrong. More than anything, I want you to know that you did all that you could for Hannah and so much more.
Jessica Davis: Like Zach, Alex, and Sheri, I truly believe you aren’t a bad person. And you are incredibly brave. I hope you continue to own and share your story.
Bryce Walker: To people like you, whether you have one dollar or one million dollars, you have no right putting your hands on another human when they say no, or when they are incredibly vulnerable. No amount of talent or prestige makes you better than another person, and I hope you get exactly what you deserve.
Tony Padilla: Your character wasn’t even in the books. But I sympathized with you because it is incredibly hard being a secret-keeper. There is a certain weight that comes from knowing and seeing people in ways that others don’t. I will be honest when I say that I am not fond of the way you kept the tapes with such a heavy story, but I can respect what you did for Hannah, because I get it–it is your way of paying dues. And similar to Clay, while Hannah was alive, you did what you could for Hannah.
Hannah Baker: My heart breaks for you, so, so much. You did not deserve the things that happened to you, and more than anything, I wish you got the help you deserved. I wish you were able to tell someone about the things that happened to you and in return, received the appropriate responses. I understand the heart behind leaving your tapes to the ones who destroyed you, and I wish you could have lived long enough to see that there are other ways to be heard. People like you, Hannah, are so incredibly loved, and I wish more than anything people like you stay long enough to see the ones who love you so dearly.
For everyone else, for my readers who find themselves relating to the above mentioned characters and the ones I did not mention: I hope you reach out for the help that you need, unlike the characters mentioned. I hope you find the strength to see how brave you are, and how loved you are if you have been victimized. Someone is always willing to listen, and there is absolutely no shame in needing someone to talk to.
Or if you are a perpetrator, I hope you get the help you need, and I hope you get every consequence that you deserve.
For parents, educators, anyone in general: Thirteen Reasons Why is out there, and it will be out there for some time. The best thing you can do is be a listener. Listen to those around you, and become informed. The show does not accurately display what it means to have a mental illness (it doesn’t address mental health at all), so I encourage you to do some research on what mental health is, or talk to a professional about it.
For anyone who feels like they need someone to talk to, please see the following resources and know that you are not alone:
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line (United States): 741741, text “HELLO”
If none of these resources work, and you still find yourself in need of assistance, please call 911 or visit your local emergency room.