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8 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Fails at Portraying Mental Illness

As someone who has had depression for half of her life, I think it is safe to say I understand it. I’ve tried to commit suicide multiple times. I know what depression feels like. That’s why the recent portrayals of depression and suicide in the show 13 Reasons Why and the movie Before I Fall have been nagging at me; because, well, they got it wrong.8 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Fails at Portraying Mental Illness
Before I go on, I do need to admit that as a show/movie, as a work of fiction, I enjoyed both 13 Reasons and Before I Fall. They did a great job of making me feel and thus making me cry. I actually had to wait a few minutes after Before I Fall, to compose myself because I was crying so hard. 
Anyways, onto the reasons:

It Glorifies Suicide

13 Reasons Why is simply about suicide, about Hannah taking her life. At least with Before I Fall, it isn’t the major plot line, more of a result of the plot. But both portray suicide as more of a good idea than something awful, an easy way to end the pain.
On one hand, I applaud 13 Reasons for showing Hannah actually killed herself because it makes it real. But on the other hand, it didn’t need to be done. Talk about a trigger. I never tried to kill myself by slitting my wrists, but man, did I bawl my eyes out at the scene. 

8 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Failed

The show makes it look so easy. She slits her wrists, lays in the tub, and tada! She is dead. Taking your own life isn’t easy. 

 They Simplify Depression/Suicide as a Direct Result of Sexual Assault, Bullying, Etc.

Both 13 Reasons and Before I Fall show suicide as simply a direct result of bullying. (And yes, I know Hannah’s sexual assault doesn’t help, but she was thinking of killing herself before that happened.) In reality, it is so much more. With Hannah, her mental illness is very obvious. Most (I say most, not all) of what she goes through, many others do too. Boys in high school are assholes. Girls are bitches. But most people make it out. I did.
I’m not saying that being bullied didn’t add to her depression because it did. But her depression made everything seem worse. The closest they got to showing this was in the scene where Zach shows his interest in Hannah. She takes it the wrong way, as if he was being cruel and thus a reason to kill herself. 

8 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Failed

In reality, it is much more realistic that she wouldn’t believe he was interested because she couldn’t see herself worthy of his affection. More of a ‘he is faking because there is no way he would be into me’ instead of ‘he is faking because he wants to hurt me.’ 
Speaking of which…

Mental Illness is Never Mentioned


People don’t just feel bad and thus kill themselves. That isn’t how it works. If you are planning on killing yourself, it is because you have some form of mental illness.  The leading cause of suicide is some form of depression. But it is never mentioned that mental illness plays any role in the suicide of Hannah or the attempted suicide of Juliet. The show/movie makes suicide the result of an angst teenage phase.
One in four people deal with a mental disorder in their life. And you know what, it is ok. I don’t know why the writers felt the need to pretend the mental illness part just wasn’t there.

 Depression doesn’t just go away.

At the end of If I Fall, the main character, Samantha, dies by saving, “the weird girl,” Juliet from killing herself. Juliet darts in front of a car and Samantha follows her, pushing her out of the way and thus sacrificing herself for Juliet. And that is it. End movie.

8 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Failed

Just because Juliet didn’t die that night doesn’t mean she is magically better. She wanted to kill herself because of the bullying she received from Samantha’s friends. However, now she is the reason Samantha is dead. Did the writer really think that her life would get better? She is now the reason a girl is dead. If anything, life would get worse for her. 
Who says Juliet wouldn’t try again? You don’t just magically not want to kill yourself or magically not have depression anymore.

Makes Suicide Look like the Perfect Revenge

Hannah creates the tapes in order to punish those she blamed for her life being so terrible. Even when I probably could have blamed a specific person, I didn’t. I never thought of telling someone ‘hey this is totally your fault I’m dead.’ That is terribly cruel. And personally, I didn’t think of how I would or could hurt someone else by my death. I just thought of ending my pain.

8 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Failed

But back to 13 Reasons. The point of revenge is never made.  While the teens of the tapes felt bad, they are still alive. They still get to go on with their lives. They will eventually grow up and probably forget about Hannah. But you know who won’t grow up? Hannah. 
It is much, much better revenge to live, to thrive and to show up at your 10 year reunion super rich and successful while everyone else is fat and doing nothing.

Everyone is Shown as Unhelpful

Most people who are contemplating suicide do reach out at one point or another. It is never shown if Juliet reached out in Before I Fall, but Hannah reaches out multiple times in 13 Reasons. Most people don’t want to be dead in the ground. We (yes, I mean me too) just want the pain to stop.
Everyone Hannah reaches out to were incredibly unhelpful especially the school counselor. Did you know that it is actually against the law to not report someone who is showing signs of suicide? However, her communications teacher just blows off her note for help. Even if you are talking in therapy, which is confidential, if you mention wanting to take your own life, the therapist is required to report it. 
In real life, people aren’t as unhelpful as they are shown to be in 13 Reasons. Please, if you are thinking about hurting yourself, reach out. Talk to a family member, a friend, a doctor. People care, I promise.

Shows Self Harm as an Alternative to Suicide

One thing that really pissed me off is when Clay confronts Skye about herself harm in 13 Reasons. She makes a comment about how it is better to cut yourself than kill yourself. And sure, on a very basic level, it is. But cutting yourself isn’t ok, which is the message the scene sends.
Self-harm is not an alternative. It is not ok. An alternative to both self-harm and suicide is getting help. 

8 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Failed

Never Makes it OK to Have Mental Illness

Because they never mentioned mental illness as what is behind the reason Hannah and Juliet wanted to kill themselves, they never showed that it is ok to have a mental illness.
How hard would it have been to stick something in there to say that it is normal to have a mental illness? Like I said earlier, one in four people deal with mental illness at some point during their life. And it is totally ok because it is never your fault. 
Having depression doesn’t automatically mean you have to/or want to try to kill yourself. I live with my depression, day in and day out. 
If you are depressed, if you cut yourself, if you have thoughts of ending your life, I beg you, reach out to someone; Talk to someone, anyone. If you don’t feel like you have someone to talk to in your life, call the suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255. They even have a chat feature if you don’t like talking on the phone.

 

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4 Responses

  1. Brittney says:

    I have not watched Before I Fall, and have only seen bits and pieces of 13 reasons why. I did however read the book when I was roughly 15. I was not depressed. I had no history of mental illness at this time. I read many books, and none of them triggered me the way this one had. Reading this book made me so angry I couldn’t even speak about it at some points. I was furious with this character for placing blame on all of these people. It was extremely unsettlingly. Over the years I have encountered many friends and family members who suffered with depression, And it sickens me even more to think what this character did was a good idea.
    This book and show have not been helpful to those who are suffering from mental health issues. I agree with you 100%

  2. Liz says:

    So, I really enjoyed Before I I Fall (and the book) and 13 Reasons Why – but yes, that suicide scene was extremely hard to watch. I do agree with your points here about mental illness. One thing that really bugged me about Hannah was that she only tried once to reach out to an authority figure about her feelings (the counselor, who totally effed it up, oy …) and she didn’t tell anyone she was being bullied. I think she probably was depressed, too, but because of all the things that happened to her.

  3. Sierra says:

    Okay, so I have not watched either of the mentioned films, but I really like your voice here. Given that this topic is typically a touchy subject with many people, your voice gives a calm look at how each film is portrayed. Its refreshing to read something that isn’t bashing the show/movie just like every other article or blog. You pointed out what you thought was good and bad in a respectful manner. You give just enough of your personal life to make your points and it doesn’t come off as a ‘poor me’ vibe. I struggle with depression also and I can relate to a few things you mentioned. I really enjoyed reading this.

  4. Angela Denzer says:

    Amen! I have suffered from depression most of my life and due to traumatic experiences I also battle with complex ptsd, I have attempted suicide several times and almost succeeded twice, no glory there! Now my teenage daughter is battling with depression and severe anxieties which is painful to see, it’s so painful to see and not be able to take that pain away espespecially when you know that pain so intimately yourself, I’m always so scared to go to sleep, afraid of losing her in the night. Absolutely no glory in that!

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