13 Reasons Why

How the popular show is affecting the lives of teens


Photo Courtesy of 13 Reasons Why Instagram

In April of 2017, the month following the release of the television show“13 Reasons Why” teen suicide rates jumped 30%. Suicide rates ranging from ages 10-17 were the highest they have been in 5 years, says Emily Lund and Michael R. Nardoff from The Conversation. The show is a story about a high school girl, Hannah Baker, battling bullying and harassment. She then records thirteen tapes summarizing why she decided to take her own life, with each tape targeting one of her “friends.” The show covers some heavy topics including rape, gun violence, assault, suicide, and more, so it is not for everyone. 

All three seasons have discussed sensitive topics in a way many people do not agree with. John Ackerman, the coordinator of Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, says, “That way of portraying suicide doesn’t really match what we typically see in clinical practice.” He also mentions“Hannah’s responding to these individuals who caused her harm, or perceived harm, in a very vindictive way plays into a teen fantasy and promotes a misconception that suicidal behavior is selfish.” The show seems to give the illusion that suicide is a way to get revenge on those who have hurt you.

Many are worried that the way this show depicts suicide will make teens feel as if it is a good way to get more attention even after they have passed. Marissa Martinelli, an author from Slate, says, “It creates a false illusion that a suicidal person can be in control after his/her death, and offers up no alternatives to Hannah besides killing herself.” Some even say the show seemed to “glorify” the thought of suicide.

Throughout the show, a recurring theme appears. The school counselor, someone students should trust as a resource, is shown as a neglectful person who ended up being the “thirteenth reason why” Hannah took her life. In the show, when Hannah tells her counselor about her sexual assault, he tells her to report the student to the police. Hannah, not wanting to give up her assaulter’s name, decides to keep it to herself instead. The counselor then fails to contact the police or her parents. Yuridia Nava, a counselor from Riverside Polytechnic High School, says, “Things like this will discourage teens from seeking help from a professional.”This leads many people to believe that teens with serious problems will avoid talking to trusted adults.

Now that season three was just released on August 23, 2019, the new season has taken a different approach. Switching from the touchy topics of suicide and sexual assault to the more widely-spread theme of mystery, the show seems to be appealing to a more general audience. Even though the new theme of  “murder mystery” would be more appropriate for teens, many serious topics still appear. Rylie Swenson, a freshman at Battlefield, thinks, “Even though the theme of the show has changed, a lot of concerning ideas remain. Netflix still requires a warning to be played before the start of each season.” In 2018, Netflix decided it was necessary to include a clip of the cast reminding fans that the show was fictional and if you suffer from issues such as suicidal thoughts, the show may not be right for you. Rylie also believes, “A show like this can affect a lot of teens’ lives, even some from our own school.”

It is important to shed light on sensitive topics mentioned in the show. However, there are certain ways these topics should be properly addressed. “13 Reasons Why” did bring awareness to a serious subject matter that a lot of teens struggle with. The way the subject matter was approached may not be the best, but they did shed some light on things that many are too afraid to discuss. This caused a multitude of experts and parents to have discussions with teens about the show and the risks that come with watching it. Hopefully, shows that contain plot lines similar to “13 Reasons Why” will be able to address the topics of suicide in a more appropriate manor.