People Are Questioning Whether Hannah Baker Even Had A Mental Illness

Netflix’s new series, 13 Reasons Why, has the older generations freaking out about teenage mental health.

Mental health advisers across the country have accused the show of “glorifying” suicide, and have warned parents not to show it to their middle school children.

If you haven’t seen the show (spoiler alert), 13 Reasons Why is about the suicide of Hannah Baker, a young girl who is relentlessly bullied in the hormonal and angst-ridden hallways of high school.

Hannah has a photo of her underwear go viral, her private poetry is published in a school magazine, she is consistently groped and verbally abused by boys who think she is “easy”, she witnesses her friend being raped and, finally, she herself is raped. And yet, somehow, many are insisting Hannah had no reason to commit suicide.

In high school, I witnessed nearly every form of abuse Hannah Baker went through in 13 Reasons Why. As someone who has suffered chronic and unrelenting depression since my teenage years, I can only imagine the mental distress and anguish I would have suffered had all these experiences been my own.

“Entertainment has always been the ultimate connector and we hope that 13 Reasons Why can serve as a catalyst for conversation,” Netflix said upon release of the show.

A conversation is certainly being had, but it is not the right one. After all, the discussion is being led by older generations and not by the youth that is most affected. When suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens in 2014, clearly there is an issue that is not being addressed and discussed correctly.

This week, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the controversial show that perfectly illustrates how older generations misunderstand the show and Hannah’s character.

“In reality, experts say it is often mental illness and stressors that lead to suicide, although the show does not touch upon whether Hannah has mental illness,” reads the article. “In the show, Hannah’s suicide is a means to exact revenge against the people she felt wronged her.”

It seems impossible the reviewer watched the same show I did. How on Earth can you question Hannah’s mental illness?

Just because she doesn’t explicitly say “I have a mental illness” or she doesn’t cry enough to meet the standards of your stringent definition doesn’t mean she isn’t mentally ill.

Mental illness can be quiet, secretive and insidious. After all the shit that Hannah went through, there is no question in my mind she was mentally ill.

Not only that, but to suggest her suicide is an act of revenge is to completely miss the point.

Hannah’s suicide is a response to years of bullying and a terrible rape. It is a reaction to the mental turmoil and angst many teenagers feel when they are socially isolated.

Hannah’s suicide is about seeing no other alternative. It’s about finding no redeeming qualities in a world where people treat each other with such disrespect and disdain.

The 13 tapes that Hannah records about why she committed suicide are an explanation for her suicide, not a revenge plot. In fact, you could argue they are no different from any other suicide note.

To explain them away as a form of revenge is to completely misconstrue suicide as a spiteful and selfish act — a common rhetoric that places all the blame on the victim.

In particular, I have been dismayed by the aversion the National Association of School Psychologists has shown for the contentious show.

“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series,” the association said. “Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”

It seems illogical and counterintuitive that the very teenagers who desperately need to have an open conversation about suicide are the ones being explicitly denied an opportunity.

To say that the show romanticizes suicide is plainly incorrect. The emotion, the terror, the debilitating sadness the characters experience on the show does nothing more than provide a grim and telling example of the pain that suicide causes.

I agree, the show gives viewers a graphic and realistic depiction of teenage suicide. I acknowledge many teenagers will want to discuss suicide and mental health issues more after this show. I understand many teenagers will feel more comfortable opening up to their parents or even calling suicide hotlines after seeing this show.

I don’t agree this is a bad thing.

In a recent video, released by the Wall Street Journal, a psychiatrist advises parents to not allow their middle schoolers to watch the show.

The video is called “13 Reasons Why: Sending the Wrong Message?”

If 13 Reasons Why is sending the wrong message about suicide (which is the stark reality), what is the right message about teen suicide? A watered down lie?

Surely we want our middle schoolers to watch this show before they enter the most hormonal years of their lives.

Bullying starts young.

Depression starts young.

Education and discussion on these issues should start young, too.

13 Reasons Why is a great place to start.