Reasons why “13 Reasons Why” is controversial


“13 Reasons Why” has been a controversial show among teens because of its portrayal of mental illness. “It makes it seem like it’s something that’s just so instantaneous like suicide ‘just happens…there’s nothing you can do about it, and it’s just a decision that’s made.’ When in reality I think it’s one of the most difficult decisions a person could make, and the show…I don’t think it portrayed that at all,” said Senior Nadia Ravensborg. Photo courtesy: Netflix

It’s not easy to fundamentally capture and accurately portray high school life at its core. Many believe 13 Reasons Why (a new Netflix original and novel by Jay Asher) has accomplished this and many believe that it hasn’t. 13 Reasons Why is about a high school where a girl named Hannah Baker killed herself. She gave out 13 tapes that each discussed a reason why she committed suicide.

South High counselor Lauren Lewis said, “The things that happen are realistic.” Lewis believes that this is because the show covers realistic issues like “bullying. Being a bystander to bullying, I believe, is a huge issue that is something that should always be talked about and ways to prevent it, suicide of course, friendships meeting other people, getting to know students who are new, friendships joining a school transitioning to a new school is a big issue and is so difficult for students who have never done that,” Lewis said.

However, Lewis does not believe it captures high school life entirely accurately. She believes that the fault lies in how the students in 13 Reasons Why interact with the various adults in their lives. “It’s not showing ways students can get help even with smaller things, I think that’s a big piece that’s missing.” She continued, “I don’t see students talking to parents very much.”

Seamus Hegarty a freshman at South provided a reason as to why adults aren’t always informed about the lives of students, “That’s not something you’d generally tell your counselor you’d keep that more private with other students.” Katherine Matejcek a freshman at South believes “[The students in the show] should’ve talked to their parents but they were also definitely worried about Hannah’s safety. She died and they kept everything confidential.” Matejcek elaborated saying, “I think that a lot of things are definitely kept from people’s’ parents.” Hegarty added “I haven’t really seen or experienced that bad of bullying here but I think it does happen some places.”

Matejcek also believes while 13 Reasons Why is realistic enough, it does not perfectly portray high school life. “I think it’s very dramatic compared to high school life or at least what I see.” Matejcek cited something the show gets wrong to warrant this less than realistic judgement. “Everyone kinda knows everyone, that happens in smaller schools.” Hegarty noted also “People don’t really just walk around and say mean things, it’s usually just as a joke.” It’s true. At South, the meanness is kept within friend groups for the most part.

Senior Nadia Ravensborg believes the show did not accurately portray mental illness. She said, “Personally I hated it I thought that it was a very inaccurate depiction of mental illness and suicide and it kinda portrayed the issue as something that can’t be helped.” Ravensborg described some ways she believed the show failed in attempting to portray mental illness “It makes it seem like it’s something that’s just so instantaneous like suicide ‘just happens and there’s nothing you can do about it and it’s just a decision that’s made’ when in reality I think it’s one of the most difficult decisions a person could make and the show I don’t think it portrayed that at all.”

Ravensborg believed that the show made it seem that suicide was a tool to hurt other people. “It made it seem like suicide was a tool for revenge rather than a last ditch resort for people that don’t think they can find help.”

Matejcek does believe the show gets some things right saying, “I think it gets right some of the interactions between students and I think it gets right the confidentiality of the tapes because it’s definitely not something they would want to bring up to everybody, they’re all worried for their safety.”

Matejcek does not believe the show is targeted towards students saying “I think it affects teachers and counselors more than the students. It’s definitely not saying good things about the counselors.” Matejcek did concede, however, that it was not safe for all students to watch. “I do know a few people that watched it and said they got really bad suicidal thoughts because of it and that’s kinda something that could be happening in some cases.”

Hegarty believes “You need a certain maturity level to understand it because you could take it the wrong way and make jokes about it.” He elaborated on this later saying, “It’s a very sensitive subject to some people.”

13 Reasons Why is considered an accurate reflection of high school and an egregious insult to the mentally ill. Public opinion on the show and it’s impact is still out but it has made a loud statement in the discussion of suicide and teen mental health.


Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255