I started watching 13 Reasons Why on Friday, eager to make a Thirteen Reasons Why review, as soon as it dropped. How can I not be excited, when the subject of suicide and mental health problems is a cause dear to my heart? I just had to advocate a series that talks about the possible reasons a teenager would decide to cut her time short.
Thirteen episodes later, the series, just like the book did when I read it, gave me a couple of things to reflect on. Here are some of the lessons 13 Reasons Why has taught me:
- You may want to help, but your message may not come across the way you want it to. You mean well, of course, you do. But sometimes people don’t feel the sincerity–and that is not your fault. When someone feels as if their life is worth nothing, they may generally think that no one cares deeply enough to stick around and listen.
- Abuse comes in different forms and shapes. Sexual assault is a very difficult topic to talk about, and sometimes it isn’t in the form of someone “raping” you. Sometimes it’s in the form of someone disrespecting your wishes, and misinterpreting what you’re NOT saying, to fit their idea of consent.
- Silence is not always a good thing. A person may not always look sad and may not always be asking for attention, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help. It isn’t enough to ask a half-hearted question about how their day was going. You can never have too many friends, and someone can always use an extra hand to hold when dealing with personal struggles.
- The little things we do can have big impacts, and they may not be immediate. That one little comment about a person’s body or waistline may have been an innocent joke, but a person with body image issues will always remember your remark.
- Moving on isn’t always so easy. “It will get better.” Yes, that’s one of the most repeated advice given to those who are struggling, and even the people behind 13 Reasons Why agree, but the thing is, when you’re struggling, you don’t see it getting better in the foreseeable future. If anything, you might think things will just get worse.
- There are different kinds of death. Hannah herself went through at least two kinds of death: the emotional death, when she started feeling nothing, and the physical death, when she committed the Big S.
- Choosing not to commit suicide doesn’t mean a person isn’t hurting. Skye seems like a strong person in the book and series, but hidden behind that facade are the marks on her wrists, evidence of her own struggles. She may not have chosen the same path Hannah had chosen, but she was in no way breezing through life, either.
- Wanting to protect someone doesn’t mean you know what’s best for them. You may think it’s “for the best,” not telling them about issues they should be concerned about, but in the end, you are only condoning what had happened. When you keep silent, after all, you are letting the enemies win. Help a person cope with their demons instead of trying to fight those for them.
- There is no single face of suicide. I really liked how the Netflix series tackled this misconception about mental illnesses. There is no single face of depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders. Not physically, at least. You’re better off looking for alarming changes, such as mood swings or dropping grades.
- Not saying no doesn’t mean saying yes. In the Netflix adaptation of the book, Bryce sexually abuses two female characters, both of whom were unable to say no. Jessica, for her part, was intoxicated and unconscious when Bryce started to take advantage of her. Hannah, though conscious, felt overpowered. At that point, she seemed to have dissociated with herself, as well. Later on, Bryce says that they were as good as asking for it.
- “You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong.” It happens–you may care deeply for someone, but that same care may be misplaced or grounded on the wrong information. It isn’t your fault, just as it isn’t that person’s fault, either. Rather than assume, however, ask the person if they are going through a difficult time. And listen. Actually listen.
- There are three responses to a situation: fight, flight, or freeze. We are all aware of the fight or flight response, but it’s also very likely that a person may freeze up when confronted by a difficult situation. Witnessing someone getting hurt, being put on the spot, or being victimized yourself, may all make you feel like you couldn’t move or speak. It can be overwhelming, that feeling of weakness.
- “You can’t love someone back to life.” This is the saddest realization I got from the series, and it’s spoken in the last episode, too. It is said because it’s true, even if Clay said he can “try.” The truth is, once a person has crossed that line, there is no way to get them back. Their death impacts the lives of those they have touched, and they will remain a memory, but that’s all they’re ever going to be. Don’t wait for regret. Appreciate the people you have in your life and make them feel the love you have for them.