Viewpoints: Does the TV series “13 Reasons Why” romanticize bullying and teen suicide?

Insensitivity to crucial teen issues

By Garrett Gallego

Staff Writer

According to Teen Vogue Magazine, the new Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why” has become the most popular show on social media among teens. It is based on the novel by Jay Asher and centers around a young girl named Hannah Baker, who committed suicide after creating tapes explaining the events that caused her decision. Unfortunately, the show’s unrealistic portrayal of suicide is offensive to people who suffer from suicidal thoughts and depression, and it sends an inaccurate message about how these problems should be handled.

The approach taken by “13 Reasons Why” is both insensitive and dangerous. Suicide is not a topic that should be glorified on television or treated as entertainment material. Suicide should be portrayed in an accurate and responsible way, especially because it has become a significant problem among today’s youth.

According to Psychology Today, suicide is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24. This generation in particular has had the most teen suicides of any previous generation before it. Every 100 minutes, a teenager takes his own life, according to suicide.org.

This is a frightening reality that is romanticized in “13 Reasons Why.” The series enforces the toxic idea that one can commit suicide, blame others, and take revenge on people they felt wronged by. According to The Daily Beast, experts believe that, because of its revenge scenario, the show may result in suicide contagion, or “copycat suicide.” No television series should promote self-harm, much less suicide.

The show also sends the troubling message that adults turn a blind eye to the problems faced by teens with depression or suicidal thoughts. In “13 Reasons Why,” a counselor dismisses Hannah’s report of rape because she refused to name her attacker. The isolation and helplessness Hannah felt from this rejection contributed to her suicidal thoughts.

However, this scenario would unlikely happen in real life, and it gives viewers the impression that school counselors do not provide help for teens in need. It might also increase teens’ reluctance to reach out to adults in general and seek help.

In fact, counselors are obligated by law and the California education code to report instances of student bullying, sexual assault, child abuse and suicidal thoughts to the authorities and/or refer the student to psychological counseling. They cannot, nor would they, ignore a student’s plea for help in these situations.

The graphic scenes of Hannah’s rape and death also pose a danger to viewers. In an online article about the series, the National Association of School Psychologists stated, “[the show’s] powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choice made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”

The consequences that “13 Reasons Why” may have for young viewers are enlarged when one considers the popularity of the show.

Although the series helped bring crucial topics to the forefront of social discussion, media should focus its influence on helping people who suffer from mental illnesses, rather than glorify their problems. Moreover, society should highlight positive ways to deal with depression, bullying, and sexual assault to show true support for teens that are struggling with such issues.

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