13 Reasons Why

Suicide. Now there’s a topic that gives people the shivers. But despite how squeamish and uncomfortable the idea might make you, the fact of the matter is that it’s relevant and it’s REAL. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S overall, and the second biggest killer of the 10-24 age demographic. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.

Netflix has apparently recognized this growing epidemic with its recent installment of an original series based on the novel “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. The series is centered around the story of a young girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide and leaves behind seven double-sided tapes detailing her decline into depression. The tapes are dedicated to each specific person she held responsible for her death, detailing why and how they contributed to her decision to end her life.

The mystery-thriller series has become an online phenomenon since its release in late March and has drummed up quite some controversy as well. Graphic depictions of rape, abuse, and (obviously) suicide are presented, not down-played in any way. Rather, these scenes are shown in their heartbreaking and gruesome reality. People, specifically parents, are concerned that this show is not appropriate for a wide audience because the graphic scenes might be too horrific for young eyes and possibly even triggering for those who have dealt closely with depression and/or suicide.

Although I agree that the depictions of abuse and death are quite morbid and potentially triggering, the heavy content is necessary to keep the show honest and real. I think brutual honesty is the best way to bring about change. 13 Reasons Why, despite some minor flaws in execution, is a rude awakening for many people because it shows how much of an impact we can have on one another. As it turns out, most bullies walk around unaware of the effects they might be having on their peers.

When examining the issue of suicide it is important to recognize how the structure of bullying has changed in the last couple of decades. The classic take-your-lunch-money kind of bullies who shove their victims into lockers have become somewhat of an ancient archetype. The kind of abuse present in today’s culture is much more complex, making it harder to pin down–and stop.

Although public humiliation by way of physical abuse is still a contributing factor, modern bullying can be especially harsh because of the means available today to create and distribute private and/or offensive content to a wide audience with incredible speed. You don’t necessarily need to punch someone in the face or steal their clothes from the locker room to be considered a bully. All you really need to do is pass along someone else’s private photo or spread rumors via group message and all of a sudden you’re just as guilty as the person who sent out the photo or started the rumor in the first place. Public defamation facilitated by faceless technological mediums has made it all too too simple to become the bad guy. This kind of modern harassment is typically engaged in by many people who may not even be intentionally collaborating with each other to gang up on someone, but the effect is all the same.

Mob mentality, when people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, grants bullies strength in numbers. If everyone is doing it, it’s not as bad. If everyone is saying it, it must be true. Once this mindset takes over, the rest is history. What started out as a few unrelated instances of less-than-kind treatment and a few snide remarks, can be pieced together to form a permanent dark cloud looming above the head of the victim. Throw in a few humiliating pictures and rumors circulating around on social media and it won’t be long before they feel completely lost and alone. It’s frightening to realize how easily small instances can keep snowballing until they become a full-fledged blizzard of pain. The “little” things usually slide under the radar and the abuse often goes unnoticed for a long time until its too late. Most bullies never even realize they are bullies.

Hannah Baker’s story serves as a glaring example of how seemingly tiny occurrences can add up and break down a person to the point of no return. By showing how many people–intentionally or unintentionally–contributed to Hannah’s pain, the show advocates for better treatment of our peers and begs us to pay closer attention to the little warning signs that someone is deeply suffering.

13 Reasons Why sheds light on the horrifying truth that anyone can be a bully, without even really knowing the gravity of what they’re doing. Understanding the impact we have on each other is paramount to preventing outcomes as devastating as Hannah’s. The profanity and gore of the series is essential to maintaining the authenticity of high school and its horrors. People need to be thoroughly informed about the severity of this issue and how it is brought forth, so that they might learn how to identify it in their own little corner of the world and hopefully work toward building a society with less hatred.

Hannah Baker’s story is heartbreaking and raw and terrifying but most of all it is REAL. I have hope that because of this show viewers will become more aware of how small actions can have a huge impact. And maybe, just maybe, we can finally begin to combat teen suicide in a real and substantial way.

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