13 Reasons Why shows the teen struggle hasn’t improved in decades
The Netflix series includes some uncomfortable truths for adults
Warning: Contains programme spoilers from the top
Drinking, guns, rape and drugs.
The world of Liberty High School in the Netflix smash hit 13 Reasons Why has been criticised in some quarters for a lack of realism.
The glamour and gloss of the all-American surroundings, where jocks get a free pass and parents leave their 16 and 17-year-old children to fend for themselves while they gallivant worldwide, perhaps didn’t ring true for real-world adolescents.
But where it matters – in the torment, the fear and sadness, the horrific mistreatment of each other and, paramount, the desire to end it all – the themes are universal.
I know because, like so many of today’s teens, I struggled with the self same issues a more than 20 years ago.
Hannah Baker declares that the tapes she records for various named protagonists in her school are ‘reasons why’ she decides to kill herself.
But although they are presented as catalysts for her decision, there was a mental health struggle working Hannah which no one identified.
As a self harmed and a very desperate teen, the imagined relief from that final, heartbreaking scene of Hannah’s – shown in flashback – where she opens her veins in a bathtub only to be found when it’s too late by her anguished parents, would have been a seductive promise.
I actually cried watching it, but was thinking of how would have felt if I’d watched the same scene at 16.
One word: jealous.
Of course I had nothing so horrendous to contend with as Hannah, but the mental health issues were all there.
The desire for escape, the feeling of not belonging. The idea that even when you did manage to trust a friend to reveal part of yourself, they would tell everyone and ruin your reputation.
And even at home, with two loving parents who were besotted with Hannah, she felt like a constant failure, like she wasn’t worth their love.
All because the dark heart of depression at the centre of what was supposedly ‘teen angst’ was missed.
There are so many issues dealt with in the series – ‘slut shaming’, domestic violence, social deprivation and the importance of wealth.
But what is most heartbreaking and real, in the midst of all of the glamour and gloss, are Hannah’s struggles inside her own mind.
And the reaction to the scenes onscreen shows that there is such a long way to go before mental health issues are understood by those closest to us.
For everyone who says that the bullying and rape culture at Liberty is unrealistic, there are those who say that Hannah’s story — and graphic end — glamourise suicide.
With all of the broken lives that are left behind, and the very real representation that Hannah’s story will never have a happy ending, this is an unbelievable claim.
Where is the glamour in this desperation, and hopelessness? The strength of the programme is in showing how young, talented people full of potential can imagine that taking their own lives is an answer to depression.
And it’s a warning that we must take heed of, because our approach to mental health needs to change for all of our sakes.