The new Netflix mini-series Thirteen Reasons Why, adapted from Jay Asher’s 2007 bestselling novel, is thirteen hours of emotionally ridden, binge-worthy television. Although it is expectedly laced with stereotypical high-school drama– love triangles, jealousy, and angst– the stories delves deep into some of the most stigmatized hardships that high schoolers face today, sparking a nationwide discussion on mental health, rape, bullying, and warning signs of suicide.
The story follows main character Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette) and his discovery of thirteen tapes narrated by classmate Hannah Baker (played by Katherine Langford) that cite the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. As Clay listens to each tape, he unfolds the dark truth behind Hannah’s life in high school, including the relentless bullying and abuse she faced that ultimately led to her death. The tapes detail stories of her rape, harassment by male classmates, bullying, and unmet cries for help. Every episode narrates the story of the thirteen people who contributed to the decision Hannah made to end her life, whether it be through a rumor spread, a wrongful act, or the decision to simply stand by while she begged for help.
Rather than glorifying the hardships Hannah faced, creating a resolution with empathetic characters, 13 Reasons Why finishes off each episode with parallelism to real-life; there are no neat, happy endings. The blatant disregard taken by a high school that hopes to cover up any implications of bullying, and the selfish nature of classmates who find more concern in their own potential punishment than the suicide of a fellow classmate, help underscore the dismal truth of mental health in young people. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a shocking 20% of children ages 13-18 suffer a mental illness. Despite this, many high schools in America have minimalistic procedures set in place to help students who suffer these illnesses. In Hannah Baker’s case, her cries for help extended to classmates, teachers, and guidance counselors, all to no avail.
13 Reasons Why also breaks the quiet shunning of sexual assault by demonstrating the startling truth that most rapists get away with their crimes. According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators walk free. Hannah Baker’s rapist faces no punishment in the series, just as many rapists in high schools, college campuses, and communities are consequence-free. This component of 13 Reasons sparked outrage among many critics, who found it implausible and inappropriate that Bryce Walker (Hannah’s rapist, played by Justin Prentice) was never formally incarcerated for his crimes, but the unfortunate truth is that this parallels the statistics of real life.
Although the topics raised in 13 Reasons Why are heavily stigmatized, the increasing popularity of the show provides hope that mental health and sexual assault will become increasingly discussed on high school and college campuses. Hannah Baker’s painful suffering should be a cry for help across the country that does not deserve to be ignored any longer.