VALLEJO, California — Actor Dylan Minnette says that the spiraling mental health of his 13 Reasons Why character, Clay Jensen, needs to be explicitly addressed in future episodes of the Netflix teen drama in order to make sense of his increasingly erratic behavior.
“It definitely is something that should be addressed because I think it’s pretty clear that he definitely has some issues and he is struggling,” Minnette told BuzzFeed News during a set visit in November. “It really takes a toll on him and almost takes him completely to the edge in this season.”
After Clay struggled through the experience of listening to his classmate and friend Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) explain via a series of cassette tapes why she chose to kill herself in the first season of 13 Reasons Why, Minnette revealed to BuzzFeed News that his character’s own mental health problems become more evident this season.
“He’s trying his best to just live his life, but it becomes apparent pretty quickly that that’s just not possible,” Minnette said.
“I think people can tell that Clay had some hint of a mental illness and he is depressed and he has some issues,” he said. “But I hope that people can see it’s a much larger issue in Season 2, and that there’s much deeper problems within Clay that we didn’t get to see in Season 1.”
13 Reasons Why Season 2 picks up a few months after the end of the events of the first season following Hannah’s suicide. In Season 1, Clay was a fierce advocate for his late friend, defending her to anyone who would listen and enduring a beating while secretly recording a confession from her rapist.
At the beginning of the upcoming season, which premieres on Netflix on May 18, viewers see that Clay has tried to move on from Hannah and her suicide because, as Minnette describes it, “it was a pretty traumatic experience.”
But despite his best efforts to leave all of that behind, Clay once again finds himself fighting for Hannah by inserting himself into her parents’ negligence lawsuit against Liberty High School.
“After Season 1, I remember thinking to myself, ‘What emotional journey can Clay go on that even compares to the level of what he went through in Season 1?’ And as it turns out, it’s still a pretty emotional journey for Clay,” Minette said.
But while advocating for Hannah, Clay’s own behavior becomes progressively concerning.
In the first season Clay has visions of Hannah after her suicide, but in Season 2 he imagines full conversations, and even arguments, between them. Minnette said these are obvious indicators of a mental health breakdown.
“It’s a very emotionally and physically demanding season for Clay this year. I think this season takes even more of a toll on Clay than last year,” he said. “It tortures him…Clay is a troubled boy with a troubling life.”
Throughout this new season, friends often catch Clay spacing out or talking to himself when he thinks he’s speaking to Hannah.
“It’s something he deals with all season and it’s something he doesn’t let anyone in on,” Minnette said.
Despite these troubling moments, Clay is never explicitly diagnosed with a specific mental illness — something experts took issue with last year when it came to the portrayal of Hannah’s suicide.
“It’s very, very rarely a single thing or a group of specific interpersonal events that result in a suicide,” said Victor Schwartz, medical director of the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on mental health and suicide prevention for teens. “Although, in young people it can happen, but there isn’t much of a sense of exploring Hannah’s internal world. Is she depressed? Does she have PTSD? What else might be going on with her is certainly not evident in the story.”
The American Psychiatric Association has also advised that TV shows or movies that explore mental illness “show options for treatment.”
While he agrees Clay’s mental health should be properly explored in greater detail, Minnette said he’s interested to see how fans react to his character’s arc this season.
“There were scenes like [the graphic scenes last season] for me this year and things that were difficult, and still are difficult as we shoot this,” Minnette said. “And I’m interested to see how people react to it. It’s hard to watch Clay go through some of these things that he does.”