A Personal and Professional Review of 13 Reasons Why

Suicide.  The first time that life altering, sentence diverting word invaded my life in a personal way, beyond the abstract knowledge of its finality, I was eighteen.  I had just started working in an emergency room, and one of my tasks was to sit with patients who had attempted suicide.  Although this one was different, because he had succeeded.  Not immediately, but he had done irreparable damage to his internal organs, and while he sat up and talked with a smiling family in denial, his body was eating itself from the inside out.  I’ll never forget that moment.  It sparked a desire in me to do everything I possible could to prevent anyone from reaching that point.

Fast forward three years later, and I had failed.  One of the closest people to me in this life committed suicide last year, and every action of mine since then has had some connection to that event.  Let me be clear and say that I do not blame myself, but just like Clay in 13 Reasons Why, I still know there are things I could have done.

I only heard about this book at the time a major online streaming service started advertising their series based on the book.  I watched the trailer immediately because of the subject matter, and I was ambivalent.  No, in all honesty I was excited.  I thought, finally, we’re talking about it.  We’re moving beyond the awkward, diverted eyes and mumbled “I’m sorries” and getting dirty and talking about this.  

I haven’t watched the show, but I finished the book today, and I feel compelled to respond.  

First: the book.  From the moment I began it, I recognized her pattern.  Though I knew the ending already, I felt like I also knew the steps she traveled to get to the point of finality.  And I did, to one degree or another, because her steps mirror so many others’.  The snowball effect of seemingly insignificant events compounding to resignation, the detachment as people reject her.  The pattern is there.  Author Jay Asher has surprising talent in getting hitting bullseye of how this happens and why, and describing invisible people.

I know because I’ve experienced this pattern.  I’ve been a Hannah Baker.  I’ve seen the world swirl and ebb around me and people think that they are being friendly, but I know they don’t care.  I understand Hannah Baker on a level most do not.  For whatever reason I never reached the same end point she did, most likely because of community.  Because I chose to listen to the Clays in my life.  

This book was very difficult to read for obvious reasons.  But now it’s finished, and I’ll tell you what I think of it.

If you have never considered suicide, and never been severely depressed, read it.  It is a real, gritty, painful journey, but it gives you the chance to live with your eyes open for the smiling, pretty, cheerful, gentle, invisibles who are dying inside around you.  People who, if you’ve never had this hit home for you, you don’t even recognize.  It gives you a chance to make a difference now.  It allows you to be a Clay, but with the tenacity of heart to hound those people into letting you love them.  It will hurt.  But I believe it’s necessary.

If you have ever considered suicide or have been severely depressed, don’t read it.  You know this journey already, just as I do, and you know that there are things that might push you over the edge.  This might be it, because you’ll understand the final decision she makes and how she got there.  This isn’t going to help, I promise.  Instead please talk to someone.  If there is anything I’ve learned it is that there are always people, they just don’t always say anything because they don’t know. So please let them know.  Talk to someone.  Pastors are always ready to listen without judging, and if you feel there is absolutely no one else, there are still ways.  The National Suicide Hotline is: 1 (800) 273-8255, and if you can’t talk to someone, search in your browser “suicide hotline” and there will be a link to chat with someone.  If texting is best, text “HOME” to 741741.  There is someone out there.

Here is a good place to note that I do not recommend this material for children of any age.  The language used, as well as the traumatic descriptions of rape and other sexual acts make this material for mature audiences with the ability to understand the message and who will not be scarred.
Second: the show.  I won’t waste your time with verbosity, so here are the bullet points.  My first problem with the show is that it portrays the actual suicide.  On camera.  This is illegal on national television for no other reason than that mirror neurons make you pattern behavior seen.  If you’ve seen a suicide and you’re already considering going through with it, you’ll be much more likely.  This was possible because the show is only available through streaming, and the laws do not control that.  

The second reason I disagree with this show is that it causes you to associate yourself and see the story through the eyes of Hannah, the girl that commits suicide, rather than Clay, the protagonist.  The purpose of the book was to show the readers that they have a chance.  An opportunity to reach out.  You do not gain this conviction of action in the series, instead an overwhelming sense of finality, sadness, and hopelessness.  This is unhealthy for anyone to view, depressed or otherwise, because it twists the reality of mental illness into a justifiable reason to end one’s life.
A show successful in discouraging suicide would focus more on the last scene of the book (no spoilers here) or even consider different subject matter in showing how someone’s decision to end their life can be turned around.

Bottom line:  don’t watch it.  Instead of focusing your time on a distorted story of hopelessness, seek out the overlooked people in your life.  It will be time well spent.

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