As I write this I have just realised how long it has been since I have written an article or a proper story. How long it has been since I felt really okay and that I might have suffered a PTSD related setback. Why has this happened I wonder: I felt so good a few weeks ago. Then I realise it started with watching a new Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why.
Revolving around a young girl’s suicide the series claims to be a show to get people talking about teen suicide, bullying, sexual assault and a cautionary tale about the signs of suicidal behaviour and how much a person can handle.
I watched it out of curiosity and in my capacity as a psychologist. Immediately after the first episode, I started feeling a bit odd. You see, I suffered from bullying, mental health issues and sexual abuse, so the series hit an immediate trigger. I should have stopped there and then, but for some reason, the series had taken hold of me, even if I could bear no more than one episode a day.
Soon I was triggered to the point of thinking over past events and painful memories for several hours a day. I couldn’t really work or concentrate, I was just thinking about myself, my traumas the lost years, the bullying. I began doubting any accomplishments I had made and mentally started dragging myself down. It was as if Hannah was taking me with her in her fall.
By the end of the series I was relieved it was over, and the documentary with warnings and support did little to alleviate the turmoil I was suffering.
I am not the only one, one journalist said,
“I can’t stop thinking about it and I really don’t want to. Because what I saw was more disturbing than any horror film imaginable.”
It is sad that something starting out as wanting to help teens suffering has got it so wrong and might cause more suffering in the end.
Having undergone the experience I applaud everyone who warns kids against watching it. I am a grown woman reliving trauma because of a story created for teens. This show had me out of kilter for weeks on end. How must it be to watch this when you are still living it? Dangerous, that is all I can say. It is bizarre that this show was created to warn against suicide when at the same time making it seem as the only option. The fact that it was announced that there is a second season.
The show shows extreme victim blaming and suicide as a payback, as finally taking control, not as the end result of months of mental pain. Suicide is not about control, not about revenge: it is someone thinking everyone’s life will be better without them. It is usually done as a spur of the moment decision to end the pain, not a planned out ritual.
Aside from the traumas 13 Reasons Why evoked and the glorifying of suicide and self-harm, the one that galled me the most was the character of Courtney and storyline in the show. As someone who has struggled with their sexuality for a very long time, seeing the lesbian character portrayed the way she was on this show was upsetting by itself. Compared to the male gay characters (one is a sweet good guy, the other has flaws but tries to do right near the end) she has no redeeming features at all. She was not even granted a scene of remorse at the end. Being a lesbian seems to be so bad that she prefers to protect a known rapist rather than face being outed. With such a lack of young lesbian role models on TV and in movies is this really what should be presented? For some reason being a lesbian is seen as problematic for many young women and girls these days and the impact this show has right now can only make this worse. Having Courtney show regret and sharing in her coming out would have lifted at least some of the problematic content displayed in this storyline.
Mental health officials and many celebrities have now warned against the show and I agree with them. It is triggering and can cause many mental problems.
Paris Jackson, who tried to take her own life in 2013, has also spoken out, calling the show ‘extremely triggering’ for young people ‘in a dark place’.
While actress Shannon Purser says: “I would advise against watching 13 Reasons Why if you currently struggle with suicidal thoughts or self-harm/have undergone sexual assault.”
Meanwhile, the National Association of School Psychologists took a clear stance, insisting the show is dangerous for young people.
“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series,” the board said in a statement.
At the same time, several Canadian schools have sent out warnings about 13 Reasons Why and one is telling students to not talk about it at all while at school.
I, on the whole, agree with this message. If you are open to it, the show can do strange things to your mental well-being. Teenagers are very susceptible and besides the fact that young people are suffering bullying and abuse on an extremely large and dangerous scale these days, there is also the internet. Online teens can both wallow in dark places where suicide, pain, mental health issues and self-harm are seen as glamorous and also experience more bullying. If this series is added to this never ending tsunami of darkness the suicide can all to easily be copied.
What teens need, now more than ever, is soothing storytelling. ’90’s TV shows like Blossom and Full House and Saved By The Bell might often be berated as soft and fluffy but series like those are what got me through the darkness in my childhood. When I was at my lowest these series were like a warm embrace, telling me things would be all right even if something went wrong. (In fact, marathoning both Full and Fuller House are what are getting me out of my depression now.) I know all too well how a young mind can be influenced by dark and tragic tales and had a series like 13 Reasons Why existed when I was young things might not have worked out so well for me. I hope that we will soon see an end to all the dark and “realistic” shows teenagers and young adults are fed these days.
Now more than ever we need “soft and fluffy”, we need to be told that “it will be alright” as our reality is dark enough as it is.
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Dannii Cohen is a stand-up comedian (drag name Divine Varod) and comedy writer turned author, psychologist, professional counselor, life coach and self-help expert. Specialized in LGBT issues, anxiety, empowerment, children’s issues and bullying.
Published works include children’s books about childhood depression and the importance of being yourself (When Clouds Hide The Sun and Christopher the Lonely Bear) and an easy to use self help manual 50 Things To Know To Have A Better Life: Self-Improvement Made Easy.