By Sarah Harris
Warning – Spoilers and sensitive topics
Netflix has had a busy few weeks with the release of the controversial series, ‘Dear White People’ and the leak of it’s most popular original, ‘Orange is the New Black’ within the last few days alone. However, the hit series, ’13 Reasons Why,’ based on the novel by author Jay Asher, was released over a month ago and is still causing wide spread debate over social media and by mental health officials. As I’m sure most of you know, the series covers sensitive topics such as bullying, assault, sexuality and suicide. Within the first few minutes of the show you learn that the central female character, Hannah Baker, has committed suicide and due to the difficulties she faced during her time in high school, has left a collection of tapes dedicated to specific individuals in order to help them understand why she chose to end her life. Now the show has raised multiple questions and a second season was confirmed just this week. However, many schools and experts on mental health have urged those who suffer from severe mental health problems or who have been a victim of assault or attempted suicide not to watch the show due to the fact that it may be a trigger for some viewers.
At the same time, the show has received high praise for covering these topics that quite frankly, a lot of people choose to tip toe around. It’s no surprise that bullying and assault are an underlying problem within many educational institutions that faculties often tend to severely neglect or cover up. A survey found that just within the UK alone, 1 in 3 female students have being sexually assaulted over their time in university.
However, very few of these cases go reported due to victims having no proof or fear of being accused of false claims. How does this link to 13 Reasons Why? Well, if you’re reading this article I’m going to assume you’ve reached the end of the series and if you’re anything like me, probably binge watched the whole thing in less than 24 hours, so you’ll probably know by now that the main character, Hannah Baker, takes her life after being raped by a fellow student (along with a number of other contributing factors). Unlike other shows that often imply rape or subtly touch on the subject, the producers of 13 Reasons Why, decided it was important that they focus on the matter by showing intense and realistic scenes. Naturally, they also had warnings before each episode stating that the episodes did focus on extremely sensitive topics, despite the fact that when discussing the show with mental health experts pre-release, they were warned not to feature such intense and graphic scenes. Since the release of the show my Facebook and Twitter feed were full of people with different opinions on whether the show did the right thing or not and whether they successfully portrayed what it was like to be a student in this day and age.
The scene that has caused the most controversy is the actual scene in which Hannah’s character commits suicide. This scene in particular is why many mental health experts are urging those who suffer from mental health problems or have their own experience with suicide, should not watch the show. It’s not to say that the scene may be a trigger warning for all people who suffer from problems, however despite this it’s no question that the scene is intense, disturbing and difficult to watch. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death amongst all ages and is often not spoken about in terms of youth culture.
Personally, as someone who has diagnosed clinical depression, I feel the show touched on topics that were important and needed to be spoken about. I for one feel that they did a fantastic job in portraying a realistic picture of what it’s like for many college and university students all over the world. Educational institutions work so hard to cover up bullying related suicides or refuse to acknowledge students who often come to them for help in aim of protecting their own image.
This underlying problem is something that needs to be focused on and changed. Within my fresher’s week alone last year, there were 3 reported incidents of rape around the University campus. Although Cardiff University has done a fantastic job in making sure all students feel safe and are willing to talk about this issue, many other universities across the UK are neglecting to do the same. It’s important that as a society we remember that although these problems may not be affecting us directly, they could be affecting your friends or loved ones without you even knowing it.
Despite the fact that I can understand why there has been such widespread controversy over the show, it’s also clearly been an eye opener for many people and in particular those of our age who often feel like they need to suppress their issues due to the fear of receiving backlash from society. As I said, the whole series did an outstanding job in portraying several important messages. However, if you do suffer from mental health issues or do not feel comfortable watching such intense scenes, that’s also completely understandable.
And also just a reminder that If you suffer from mental health problems of your own or would like to talk to someone about a matter that’s affecting you, the university offers fantastic support at their counseling and wellbeing center on Park Place.