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7 Things You Can Learn From “13 Reasons Why”

The new Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why” is based on the novel that follows Clay Jensen as he listens to tapes left behind by his friend, Hannah Baker, who killed herself. The tapes explain 13 reasons why she died and the how the people around her lead her to suicide. Here are 7 things you can learn from watching the series. ***WARNING: THIS LIST INCLUDES SPOILERS ***

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1. Suicide isn’t beautiful

American television has the tendency to censor and beautify suicide. If a character is struggling with suicidal thoughts or actually commits suicide, you might hear a gunshot in the background but you won’t see them actually pull the trigger. In “13 Reasons Why,” the audience sees Hannah go through every step of her suicide. She fills her bathtub, gets in, and slits her wrists with a razor blade. We see every moment of her blood spilling out of her arms until she dies and her parents come in and find her. In the behind the scenes episode, the creators of the show explain that this was intentional. Showing the reality of suicide minimizes the symbolism of it and makes it a real issue that people can pay more attention to.

2. Depression and loneliness doesn’t look like what you think it does

Throughout the series, Hannah talks about how lonely she feels and that she doesn’t care about anything anymore. She is never really alone, but says she feels lonely and this is a very real feeling for those that battle depression. Most people who are depressed and lonely are not actually alone. They are surrounded by other people in public, at work, and at home. But even though they are with other people, they feel invisible or unnoticed by the group. There is a misconception about loneliness that being around other people will make the feeling go away, but as Hannah shows us, that isn’t always a solution.

3. Bullying looks different in every scenario

What is bullying? What is not bullying? This is a constant theme throughout the series. Hannah deals with slut shaming from the very beginning of the series and that bullying evolves into labeling her as someone who’s just looking for attention and dramatic. Another character, Tyler Down, is labeled as a geek and is constantly shoved into lockers and told he is weird. Tyler’s character begins stalking and develops some real emotional issues due to being bullied. If Hannah weren’t bullied in the beginning, maybe she wouldn’t have felt so alone and excluded. Maybe she wouldn’t have killed herself if the other students weren’t so cruel.

4. Sexual assault is confusing and affects your mind more than your body.

In the show, Hannah’s friend Jessica Davis doesn’t realize she was sexually assaulted until weeks after her attack. When she realizes that she was raped, Jessica breaks down mentally. Hannah witnesses the rape and it scars her more than anything else that happens to her in the show – until she is raped too. When Hannah is raped, the camera focuses on her face. After she resists, she freezes and stops fighting. We watch her will to live leave her body and her spirit leave her eyes. This rape kills her before she kills herself. The stigma around sexual assault is confusing and ever changing, but this show brings truth to what happens to the spirit during sexual assault and how confusing it can be on the victim.

5. Coming out is harder than it seems

Courtney Crimsen may be the most selfish character in “13 Reasons Why” and the writers make it very easy to hate her – until we hear her side of Hannah’s story. Courtney explains why it’s so hard for her to come out and say she is gay. Growing up, Courtney was teased for having two gay dads. She explains to Clay that coming out is especially hard for her because she doesn’t want to make life any harder on her dads. Imagine the rumors: two gay men have a child that also turns out to be gay. The idea that coming out is just about courage is a huge stigma in the gay community. A lot of times, people like Courtney are trying to protect their families, loved ones or even themselves. Throughout the series, people ridicule Courtney for being cruel to Hannah in order to keep her secret. But the reality is, she felt like she had no choice.

6. A kind word goes a long way

One of the most anti-climatic - but absolutely heartbreaking- points of the series is when Clay finally listens to his own tape. He finds out that he contributed to Hannah’s death by never telling her how he felt about her. Hannah explains how all she wanted was for Clay to stay with her and tell her he loves her in her time of need. Clay was too nervous to express his feelings, but the truth is that’s all Hannah needed. Had Clay told her how much he loved her, Hannah may have had more will to live. Though it’s easier said than done, I think the lesson here is to be more transparent with your feelings. If you love someone, tell them. You never know how much they might need to hear it.

7. Asking for help should always be your first option

One of the hidden morals this show attempts to teach is “If you see something, say something.” Every person on the tapes witnessed Hannah be bullied, saw her cry, or noticed an extreme change in her behavior or appearance. No one stops to ask her if she’s OK or see what’s going on. No one tells her parents or a guidance counselor that she might be having a hard time. Not even Hannah. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts reach out to someone close or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 1 (800) 273 - 8255

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