Ilana Davis

Originally from Westchester, NY, Ilana is currently a junior at George Washington University studying journalism and mass communications. She's a strong advocate for mental health and has interned with Active Minds for the last two semesters. Other interests include travelling the world, watching TV & film, and writing about her various passions.

"13 Reasons Why" is Detrimental to Viewers Like Me

For a show meant to portray depression and suicide in a groundbreaking and relatable way, I found that it sensationalizes these feelings to the point of desire.

I love TV and all forms of media, and through them learn a lot about topics in society that may be difficult to talk about elsewhere. But creating content for media must be done safely, accurately, and responsibly. So, while the attempt of “13 Reasons Why” to portray the complexities of suicide, depression, and rape was groundbreaking in theory, I found that it failed to do so safely and realistically. 

Rather than encourage me to feel more connected to others who are struggling, and to share my story, I felt more isolated in my mind and among my peers. 

 

“13 Reasons Why” portrays a rapid descent into hopelessness and loss of oneself; it is linear and straightforward, and one event perfectly transitions into the next. This plot structure makes sense for a TV show meant to be streamed online and binge-watched quickly. But in doing so, the intention to start a conversation on the show’s part is undermined completely as it diverges from the reality of suicide and depression.  

At only 20 years old, my reality has consisted of a decade-long battle with my own thoughts. 

 

For me, clinical depression looks like the inability to leave my bed, subjecting myself to meals under the covers, and binge-watching TV shows in a darkened room. Not because I like doing this, but because it is safer than the world outside as it exists in my mind. The longer I isolate myself, the faster my mind reverts to thoughts of suicide and an end to my own existence. 

 

Yet, I can’t say that “13 Reasons Why” triggered my suicidal thoughts or depressive tendencies any more than other things have in the past. 

If anything, I was angered by the glorification of Hannah Baker’s suicide and the ill-placed burden on her peers for this.             

 

My relationship with my depression differs from Hannah’s in this sense. In these dark states of mind, I do ponder over my relationships with others, their worth, and any emotional harm they may have caused me—and I do all this introspectively. But I recognize that my depression is my own, and while such thoughts may be prompted by external factors like arguments with friends or bad interactions at a party, placing the blame for my own emotional turmoil on another person only perpetuates a figurative chain of suffering and guilt. 

 

In the moments when I am drowning in suicidal thoughts, each personal success and every personal relationship I have seems fleeting and distant. I am left feeling hopeless for a future I can’t even envision, and defeated by past mistakes and regrets. It takes a great deal of strength and energy to return to the present in these cases, but each time I do. 

For a show meant to portray depression and suicide in a groundbreaking and relatable way, I found that it sensationalizes these feelings to the point of desire. 

 

The show fails to depict how feelings of depression can be alleviated, or lessened, before drastic action occurs. It pits the characters against one another in blame and causation, rather than showing how these characters can support one another during difficult times. 

 

Rather than placing blame for my own mental distress on a single factor—be that a traumatizing memory, my relationship with my parents, the character of my friends and peers, or even my environment—I recognize that all of these aspects of my life don’t exist in a vacuum. The dangerous depiction of Hannah’s suicide, and the reaction of her friends and family thereafter, is detrimental to viewers like me, watching with these thoughts in mind and left feeling more guilt than before. 

This is not real life. Conversations about our emotions can be overwhelming, but they are so important. 

 

I have always found it difficult to reveal my thoughts and struggles, but I am always astounded when a friend sits down with me just to listen. These are the conversations that “13 Reasons Why” doesn’t show, leaving viewers to witness only the most convoluted and dismissive aspects of depression and suicide. It undermines my generation’s ability to support one another, and I’m afraid it’s become a catalyst for unnecessary actions. 

 

I want real, genuine conversations about depression, suicide, and rape. I want to see characters falling into depression and grappling with these thoughts and symptoms, and I want to see these individuals supported and loved by their friends, parents, and even teachers. 

 

That's how you change the culture around mental health. That's how I want mental health portrayed, so that others can understand a piece of what I experience. That's why I am involved with Active Minds, an organization that encourages talking about mental health every day, NOT just when there is a crisis. And that's what TV can do..

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