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The Problem of Hannah Baker

*Spoilers for 13 Reasons Why ahead*

(This post was revised 5-22-17 after I watched "Beyond the Reasons" on Netflix.)

It's kind of at the tail-end at this point, but a little earlier this spring, people became obsessed with Netflix's new show (based on a novel by Jay Asher, which I read beforehand) called 13 Reasons Why. To sum it up, a highschool student named Hannah Baker has committed suicide and she left behind 13 tapes describing 13 reasons why she did it. The show is primarily from Clay Jensen's point-of-view, a boy who we discover was in love with Hannah but never admitted it. It switches rapidly between flashbacks and current-day, post-suicide issues.

First of all, to properly analyze this story, I will have to first say that the show itself is actually very good. The videography is great, I love the music, the actors are good, it did a great job of expanding past the book's limited plot while still staying true, and expanding on each of the characters in-depth.

However, here begins where we need to employ critical thinking skills and dedicate ourselves to the continued conversation.

First off, Hannah Baker herself. She is not a role model. Let me say that again for all the teenagers out there who have watched the show and had hearts moved for this fallen angel: she is the worst-case scenario. She had no help. You do.

I recognize that she had many truly traumatizing and horrible things done to her, and I do not by any means expect her to just "get over it," and I have a huge amount of pity and compassion for her. However, I remain unsure if her suicide scene is suitable for teenagers to watch. I do not want any young girls watching Hannah slit her own wrists and wanting to emulate that.

This show is aimed at high schoolers. High schoolers' brains are still in the process of forming, and like it or not, what they watch will affect them. We need to be continuously having discussions with the people around us about mental health. If you know that someone around you has watched this show, talk with them. My biggest fear is that a young person watches this brutally honest show, identifies with Hannah, and decides to go the same way.

When Hannah opened up to the counselor, he basically refused to help her and he lied later on about speaking with her. We cannot let students think that the adults in their life will dismiss their feelings, especially those in a position meant to help them. I personally was greatly helped out of a dark place by a couple high school counselors.

On the surface, the show seems to emphasize Hannah's decision to kill herself as the fault of students around her. If the only message you received from this show is "be careful what you say because everyone has their own struggles," then you're seriously missing out.

Suicide should never be portrayed as a viable option. I was on the fence about this show's intentions until I watched the "Beyond the Reasons" message from the cast and crew at the end. They agree: they wanted to tell their viewers that Hannah made the wrong choice. However successfully that message was sent, I for one am thankful that they stepped out and spoke up.

Suicide is ultimately the decision of the one who attempts it. I do not say this to be cold. I wish so much that there were things family and friends could do to stop a suicidal loved one. But every person has their own autonomy and make their own decisions. We can help them, we can love them, we can try as hard as we might to make them want to stay, but the decision is always, in the end, up to them.

And like Clay, many of us wish that our love was enough. That maybe if we would have just told them how much we care, they would be fixed. But that isn't how it works. We can love, support, and encourage, but we can't fix.

That being said, we can improve the situation in our culture by approaching the subject in the right way. 13 Reasons Why has many triggering scenes and holds nothing back in Hannah's rape and her final act. They are graphic, violent, and the camera lingers far longer than what is comfortable. After watching the explanation in "Beyond the Reasons," I realized that it may just be what some people need to realize how real these issues are. (If you are sensitive to triggers, I suggest sitting this show out. Don't hesitate to talk about the issues though!)

This show begun a discussion. We are talking in a real way about things that are often too taboo to talk about. We are taking a hard look at how we treat others, at least for a short time. We need to be looking out for each other. Like Hannah, many people are frozen by their trauma and believe that their life is worthless.

In this discussion, it is so important to focus on why suicide is not even just a bad option, but not an option at all. We need to remind people of how their death would affect those around them. Like BBC's Sherlock says, "Once it's over, it's not you who'll miss it. Your own death is something that happens to everyone else. Your life is not your own, keep your hands off it."

But let's not leave it so simple. Suicide is not an option. But for those who are or know someone considering it, let me tell you this: we may not be able to fix each others' scars, but we can and need to encourage the healing process. Take care of each other. Hannah Baker was the problem, not the solution.

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