13 Reasons Why is sweeping the nation, in more ways than one.
The Netflix series, based on a young adult novel is causing millennials to really think about their high school experiences — and is also causing current high school students and their teachers and parents to raise alarms.
Now, why is it raising alarms? Because it’s a graphic tale of suicide. Hannah Baker, a high school junior, has committed suicide. However, before doing so, she recorded 13 cassette tapes, one for each person who contributed to her decision of ending her life. By the end of the series (and the novel) we’ve heard each backstory, and untangled a web of lies, secrets and tragedy.
The plot is eye opening. The show is raising metaphorical red flags in schools across the country as well as the following questions.
Does bullying — whether physical or non-physical, how overt or covert, taking place IRL on online — affect the mental health of teenagers to that degree?
Based on my own high school experience, I can offer firsthand testimony that it does. As I truly didn’t fit any type of mold in the social landscape of my very small high school, I became a target for hallway taunts and passive-aggressive stares. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re a teenager who is fearful to walk through the front door of your school (a place where you are ultimately supposed to feel safe), dealing with those feelings on the daily takes its toll.
What do schools have to say?
Schools across the country are sending home notices about the show, are discussing action plans in conferences among educators and administrators, and are intent on making sure that parents are “aware” of the series.
Are schools trying to cover up what goes behind closed doors?
What is the motive from the perspective of the schools? Are they genuinely concerned about the welfare of their students as the show “romanticizes suicide” or could potentially promote “copycat suicides?” Or is the motive something else altogether… perhaps guilt that anti-bullying programs in schools in our country are — to put it nicely — not what they should be? They sure weren’t ten years ago when I was in high school. And based on the show alone (the writers had to base their ideas and interactions between students off something, after all), it doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better.
Without getting into too many more plot details, it can be perceived that the fictional school’s guidance counselor turned a blind eye to Hannah’s situation. Good to know that that aspect of school administration also hasn’t gotten better since my mother visited my high school principal and he informed her that I was “happy” in the hallways. And while this report from the Huffington Post is from 2012, it seems my situation was not unique.
What do high school students have to say?
“I think that it’s incredibly important for a TV show to accurately portray when someone feels so hopeless to the point that suicide is their only option,” said high school senior Elizabeth Zarb. “Many teenagers suffer from mental illness that is often stigmatized or goes unnoticed, and hopefully this will encourage schools to stop the stigma and take mental health as seriously as physical health. The show isn’t without its flaws, but it gets the ball rolling because of how it resonated with teenagers and adults alike. It’s important for schools to be able to know the signs BEFORE a situation like Hannah’s happens, as that was an underlying theme in the show.”
What can we all learn from Hannah Baker?
We can understand that mental illness is real and should not ever be banned from conversation. We can continue to work toward a greater culture of acceptance. We can hope that our awareness will keep the conversation alive in schools and we can witness an influx of better anti-bullying policies. We can remember — even as 20 and 30-somethings in adult lives — that bullying is verbal, too. We can all actively work to be there for one another, and put some good back in the world.
Remember you are never alone. Need to talk? The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.