I’m not going to lie. I’ve never experienced depression, and seeing as my family history is pretty clear of mental illness in general, it seems I have the genetic luck of not being predisposed to such a horrifying disease. This is not to say that there are other factors that play into becoming depressed, because there are. Of course there are! I mean, everyone gets sad once in a while, right? Everyone feels a little down in the dumps, sometimes. Right?
Wrong. Being sad ≠ being suicidal. Being depressed is not the same as feeling overwhelmed, lonely, or stressed. It is an combination of all those emotions that swirl together into some sort of deep, unending mud. Imagine being trapped in such a thick mud that you’re unable to see the light of day, or see your hand in front of your face. So enveloped in this thick, slimy, immovable mud that you’re suffocating. You can’t remember what it felt like to be motivated, to have hope. To love the things you once loved doing. So no, being sad is not the same.
This is what the recently popularized 13 Reasons Why series on Netflix does not seem to comprehend. Somehow, while I’m sure they had the best intentions of incorporating mental illness into the media, Selena Gomez and Brian Yorkey managed to glamorize the idea of suicide into this sort of fun, exciting game that you simply have to watch until the very end. And they did a damn good job of it too. I mean, there’s a reason I finished the series, after all.
While my initial reaction to the end of the season was shock, and utter appreciation for the television series as a whole, this thinking soon began to unravel as it was brought up amongst my friends. We were sitting at lunch, all buzzing about the ending of the show, of the suspense regarding Alex’s bullet to the head, and the intense graphics of the suicide scene, when one of my friends brought up a good point.
“I didn’t like it.”
We all turned to her, aghast that she could possibly have an opposing position to the show. We’d just finished discussing how amazing it was for bullying and suicide to be portrayed in modern media, and to be made available to younger audiences to the extent that it was. Our eyebrows rose, egging her on to explain why on Earth she didn’t like 13 Reasons Why.
“I have a friend, who’s little sister is watching it right now,” She muttered, not looking at any one of us in particular, “And her own friend recently committed suicide. She’s in grade 8.”
All of us went silent, immediately. We could tell where her reasoning was headed.
“I would hate for her to watch this show, and get ideas in her head…” She didn’t have to finish her thought.
Because all of us understood the horrors that would be attributed to allowing a 13-14 year old girl believe that the death of her friend could possibly, somehow have been caused by her. To think that perhaps the role of Alex Standall, who was one of the most self-reflective secondary characters within the show, could now be played by this young girl. If the show had taught us all something, it was that depression, to some extent, is highly contagious. And we didn’t want this girl, whoever she was, to catch it.
So in that regard, the show sucks. It fucking sucks. There’s no happy ending, or supportive atmosphere amongst the peers of Hannah’s friend group. Hell, there isn’t even a proper counsellor within their high school. Who the hell are these kids supposed to talk to? Their parents? Wouldn’t that have been some comedic relief; Alex would speak to his emotionally suppressed father about the horrors he’s been experiencing, Justin would speak to his mother’s drunken and abusive boyfriend about the objectifying things he’d done in the past. In a perfect world, even Courtney would talk to her gay fathers about her sexuality. But this doesn’t happen. And that’s the issue, because if this show affects kids in real life as much as the tapes affected Hannah’s peers, then we’ve got an issue. Because there is no precedent being set, in terms of seeking help. There’s not a single person in the series who goes to a professional, or even to their parents, about the depression they’ve been feeling. Instead, the producers of this show(while they repeatedly defend it by stating it was meant to be “shocking”), add in a wonderfully accurate and graphic depiction of the suicide itself. Now, not only are depressed viewers not seeking help, but they have learnt how to go about the act of suicide. Wonderful.
Talk to them, Clay!
And this lack of communication is likely why drastic measures were taken by many of the kids involved with the tapes. Justin ran away, Sheri turned herself in to the police. God, Tyler even stocked up on guns (which will no doubt play a roll in season 2). But none of the characters were fixed, and for someone as vulnerable as the girl who’s friend recently died, this is now the reality they face. The producers have essentially given these people a problem, but no hope of fixing it.
Secondly, there’s the misconstrued ideas of suicide, depression, and mental illness as a whole. The crux of Hannah Baker’s issue, was not an imbalance in hormones, or a chemical imbalance in her body. Oh goodness, no. What does hormonal imbalance have to do with depression? To the show, nothing. To reality, a lot.
Depression, while it can be triggered by certain stressful circumstances or life situations, is also caused largely by a chemical or hormonal imbalance within the brain and body. There are a variety of hormonal imbalances that are attributed to causing symptoms of depression.
In many circumstances, people experience hormonal imbalance when their thyroid acts up, causing what is called “hyperthyroidism”- which is an overactive thyroid. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include anxiety, insomnia, moodiness, panic attacks, and depression. On the opposing end, an underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, can cause depression, moodiness, fatigue, and anxiety as well.
In other cases, these imbalances occur when the adrenal glands are not functioning properly, causing elevated amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. This causes victims to feel overwhelmingly stressed for no apparent reason.
These are only two of the vast examples of hormonal and chemical imbalances that an individual suffering from depression may experience, but for the sake of keeping the article interesting for those who don’t know much about biology, I’ll refrain from listing them all. The most terrifying part about these imbalances within the human body, is that it often triggers a sort of loop for the victim suffering. As hormone levels rise or lower, the victim feels depressed, causing other hormones to go out of wack as they attempt to maintain bodily stability. This causes neurotransmitter (the chemicals that allow information to be processed through the brain) levels to lower, to the point where the person is trapped in an endless cycle of depression.
13 Reasons Why failed to mention any of the above reasons within the 13 hours they had to do so, while I’ve been able to briefly glance over them within the span of about 50 minutes. I’m not sure if it was just laziness, or the lack of research that created the atrocious reasoning behind Hannah Baker’s suicide, but either way, it was highly disappointing and infuriating.
In the end, the show ended up contradicting itself. The entire purpose of the series, as stated in the behind the scenes explanation episode, was to get one step closer to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. But, by blaming Hannah’s suicide only on the actions of her peers, they managed to widen the gap even further.
So, instead of focusing on 13 Reasons Why Hannah Baker died, perhaps the show should have focused on the 13 Reasons How people like Hannah Baker could be saved.