Warning: This article does include spoilers for the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”.
On March 31, 2017 Netflix released a new series titled, “13 Reasons Why”, based off the book by author Jay Asher. This series depicts a young man, Clay Jensen, and his journey to bring justice for his friend Hannah Baker. Hannah, a seventeen-year-old high school junior with nothing but the future before her, took her life on a seemingly calm afternoon. Why is this important? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 years old, suicide is the third leading cause of death.
Ten years old, people… they are still our babies at ten years old. Why are we not heartbroken over this? High school is supposed to be full of fun, your last years of irresponsibility before stepping out into the big, scary world of adulthood. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of our teens walking the halls of our high schools today.
Teen bullying has been in the media somewhat frequently lately, especially cyber bullying. Several studies have shown an association between school bullying and depression and suicidality among teens as well as with risk for personality disorder in adulthood along with externalizing behaviors and mental health care utilization (Messias, 2014). Even with this information we still sweep bullying under the rug. Cyberbullying gives home access to what was once a safe haven for our children.
“13 Reasons Why” portrays many topics that seem to make many adults uncomfortable: rape, bullying, teen death by suicide. This should make us uncomfortable, but not in the general way. This should make us uncomfortable as adults because somehow, collectively, our actions have made children believe that issues such as bullying are not a big deal. “13 Reasons Why” shows several scenes in which Hannah Baker is bullied by her peers. Classmates sent explicit messages of Hannah around school, placed her on a list of other girls in her grade with the title “Best Ass” (which is featured in a student-published magazine), and countlessly degraded. I bet some of you are thinking, “Why did she send/take the photos in the first place?”, this is not the question we should be asking right now, and that thought is a direct contribution to the judgment Hannah and many other children receive.
In addition to the excessive bullying Hannah faced daily, she not only witnessed the rape of a friend at a party, but was also raped by the same boy later in the school year. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest & National Network) is considered the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States. Their website provides statistics such as: “On average there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape or sexual assault in the United States every year” and “33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide”.
In the final episode, Hannah courageously goes to her school counselor to open up about her traumatic experience. Instead of statements such as, “Tell me what happened”, or an ounce of sympathy, Hannah is asked questions like, “Did you say no?”, “Was there alcohol?”, “Were there any drugs?” What does it matter? So what if there was alcohol or drugs present? “Did you say no?” is such a damaging and highly accusatory question, I would even go so far to say it would be like asking a victim, “Did you enjoy that?” Victim blaming is running rampant in rape culture. Why is that?
Following Hannah’s unsuccessful session with her counselor, she goes to the post office to send a package, goes home, draws a bath, pulls out the razor blades she stole from her parent’s store while they were present, and takes her life. Her mother frequently makes statements throughout the series such as, “How did I not know?” Mothers of Hannah’s classmates made statements such as, “My son/daughter is a good kid, they would never….” Classmates made statements such as, “it is unbelievable”. But is it really, unbelievable? Were the signs not there all along? Hannah showed signs of depression for several episodes before her suicide, these signs all went unnoticed by those she was surrounded by daily. Findings by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Data and Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2015 show that each year 44,193 people in the United States die by suicide, which is averaging 121 deaths per day (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2017). Also from this report, for every suicide completed, 25 individuals attempt and fail (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2017).
We, as a society, need to slow down and pay more attention to those around us. We need to listen and not discount what people share with us. I love this quote by Catherine M. Wallace, “Listen earnestly to anything your children tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they will not tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff”. In addition to listening, let’s be models of behavior. Children learn through imitation of what they see us do. Be intentional. Be thoughtful. Be brave in reaching out to others.
Messias, E., Kindrick, K., & Castro, J. (2014). School bullying, cyberbullying, or both: Correlates of teen suicidality in the 2011 CDC youth risk behavior survey. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 55(5), 1063-8. doi:http://dx.doi.org.une.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2014.02.005
Suicide Statistics –AFSP. (2017). Retrieved April 8, 2017, from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics. RAINN. (2017). Retrieved April 9, 2017, from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence
Violence Prevention. (2015, March 10). Retrieved April 07, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/youth_suicide.html