In 2007, when I was 16, I was in the midst of some really bad bullying at school. I had a lot of things going on in my personal life as well as my home life, and I was struggling with my own mental health and my own well-being. That was all until one afternoon when I went into my town with the £10 I had saved from my weekend job to go buy a good book to read. There I was, looking through the young adult section of my old W.H. Smiths, when I came across a recently published book called 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I was immediately drawn to it, and I quickly bought it and rushed it home to read in my bedroom, as was the norm back then.
The story was about a troubled girl named Hannah Baker, who sadly decides to take her own life after a number of traumatic incidents that had happened to her. Before her death, she decides to record a number of tapes, all of which were heartbreaking reasons as to why she came to the point where she was at and why she was going to do the things she was going to do. She then gives those tapes to the people who had done said things to her. I have to say, hand on my heart, I read that book cover to cover in one night. I could NOT stop or put it down. It was truly devastating, and it made me sob until my diaphragm ached. But despite this, I almost found a comfort from Jay Asher’s story because, despite the fact it was so… tragic, it made me realize that I wasn’t alone, no matter how isolated I felt. It completely changed my life that night.
Fast forward 10 years later, and I see that Netflix is in the process of filming a series heavily based on the book. I was thrilled. I thought: how fantastic; how many lives this will help. I waited for the release, and I watched all 13 episodes in the space of a couple days. Again, I was left completely heartbroken and feeling like the same 16-year-old girl in her bedroom, but at the same time I felt full of hope and so proud of myself to have pushed through all my baggage back then and to be the person who I am today. But then I see all the articles on social media and the videos my favorite YouTubers are making about how they “hated” it, “detested” it. I was crestfallen.
They use words and phrases such as:
“She’s so dramatic!”
“She’s so attention-seeking!”
“It’s sick blaming people for you taking your own life.”
“How can they show such vivid descriptions of suicide? It’s triggering.”
“It’s glamorizing mental health problems.”
I believe this book and the programme are MEANT to be difficult to read and to watch. That is the whole point. Mental illness is a horrendous ordeal and cannot be judged or scrutinised by someone who hasn’t been through it. The subject matters are disturbing, but the fact is: sexual assault, physical assault, stalking, victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and body shaming are very, VERY real. It was real 10 years ago, and it still is now — if not more so, being in the age of social media.
I believe that people don’t want to talk about these subjects because some just cannot relate. They think it’s just too sad, or, as I’ve seen, some just want to justify it by saying it’s just “attention-seeking.” Hannah wasn’t “blaming” those people for her death. She was blaming them for breaking her down. People should be held responsible for their own actions. What can be said in a single moment — or something that you may think is a harmless joke — to someone who’s in the grips of an unknown, non-public mental health crisis can be absolutely devastating.
I was never at the point of feeling suicidal, but I had some pretty dark times as a teenager — of which I’m pretty sure someone labeled me as “being dramatic.” If it wasn’t for my family and friends, I don’t think I would have coped anywhere near as well as I did. That is another point: Towards the end of the book/show, Hannah didn’t have what many of us take for granted. Her friends had all but abandoned her, and her parents were nowhere near as invested in her life as they should have been. She felt so isolated and alone, to the extent that she felt like taking her own life was the only logical option. For a young teenage girl, or anyone for that matter, to feel that low, it should break people’s hearts, not make them turn a blind eye.
I’m sure people will disagree with me, but that’s the beauty of the Internet, being able to debate topics and put different points of view across. In conclusion, if you think someone is struggling, then please, please do something. Talk to them, help them, listen, or just acknowledge them with a simple smile or a nod. It can make such a difference. I know it did for me.