How 13 Reasons Why Portrays Suicide


Haley Gilmer, Section Editor

Disclaimer: Contains Spoilers


A recent Netflix original series has taken the world by storm. Even with it’s heavy topic of suicide, it has captured the attention of audiences of all ages. It has also caused controversy and opened a whole new topic of discussion between teens.


“13 Reasons Why” is a story about a girl who experiences bullying and isolation at her new school, which leads to her taking her own life. The show starts after Hannah Baker killed herself, leaving behind 13  tapes for each person who had something to do with her death. All 13 people are instructed to listen to every tape and pass them on. Failure to do so will result in a second set of tapes being publicly released for everyone to hear. The show switches back and forth from present day, as Clay Jensen, the show’s protagonist listens to the tapes, and Hannah’s difficult experiences.


The show brings up heavy topics related to abuse, rape, and mental illness. Viewer discretion is advised as some topics may be triggering for those who had similar experiences.  


“My first experiences with declining mental health and suicidal tendencies began when I was 11,” said Folsom High School senior Raeshel Kelly. “I think [“13 Reasons Why”] was accurate to an extent. The show mainly focused on bullying with the centralized idea of revenge and blame, so mental illness was not thoroughly portrayed, even though there were aspects of it that would lead a viewer to believe it was a core part of the show.”


With Hannah’s struggle being depicted in a very particular way, there are mixed feelings from every viewer on whether or not they call it accurate.


”Everyone deals with depression and bullying differently and because of that I don’t feel like there is a sure way to depict what it is like that will be accurate for everyone,” said senior Lindsay Rose.“However, I feel like the way Hannah’s struggle was depicted was accurate for her character, and I feel like some people who have struggled in a similar way to Hannah may have dealt with their struggles likewise.”


The show also deals with characters that are struggling in their own right, even if they were part of Hannah’s pain.


Justin Foley, who lives in an abusive home, struggles with going to school and his relationship with Jessica Davis. Jessica has the weight of the rape sitting on her shoulders, and she is desperately trying to keep the story from reaching her dad.  Meanwhile, Justin will not admit  the rape happened, and that he is partly at fault.

Another character, Alex Standall, tried to drown himself in the first couple episodes, but fails when he realises that it’s not what he wants. In the last few episodes we hear of a teenager with gunshot wounds to the head, which is then to revealed to be Alex. However, we are not sure if it was self inflicted or caused by another student named, Tyler Down.

We also see Clay struggle as he listens to the tapes. He and Hannah were friends, and he is having a harder time dealing with her loss than he lets on. At one point he stands on a ledge telling Tony, one of Hannah’s trusted friends and holder of the second set of tapes, how easy it would be for him to  jump off.


Hannah’s ex-friend Courtney Crimson also struggles with her friends finding out the truth of her sexuality and desperately tries to keep it a secret from everyone else. She lies about what happened between her and Hannah, and even spreads a rumor about Hannah’s date with Justin Foley.


The show had a specific message, and whether or not people enjoyed the show, they all understood the message and will benefit from the lessen it was trying to teach.


”I most definitely think the tapes did more harm than good to the people who heard them,” said Rose. “I think it made them feel overwhelmed with guilt for something that wasn’t directly their fault. Yes, they bullied Hannah, however, it was Hannah’s decision, and Hannah’s alone, to commit suicide. But, because her parents are so stuck and need an explanation in order to grieve for the loss of their daughter, the tapes may provide that for them if they decide to listen.”


The show depicts how the tapes affected each person, clearly portraying their anxiety over the truth, and their attempts to keep Clay quiet. The tapes definitely have a huge impact on everyone, but as Rose said, it did more harm than good. They put the blame on the shoulders of all the kids and Mr. Porter, and only provided closure for the parents.


When asked about the overall impact of the show on its viewers, ”For some people it was educational; for others it brought back feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts. People who decide to watch the show should be cautious about it, but I think it is worth watching granted they are comfortable watching it,” Rose said.


In terms of parents who have teenagers or kids who will soon be teenagers, the show may give them a little insight to what their kids are–or will be–going through.


“For parents-I believe it will be helpful. Helpful to understand what some are going through and that our depressive days aren’t just a “phase” but that we are going through stuff at school and we’re capable of hiding them just as Hannah did to her parents. For students, it can prevent bullying and hopefully suicide,” said Rood.


Alexis Curtis, founder of the nonprofit organization Media Impact and Navigation for Teens, tells CNN that she was bullied in high school and that if she had watched the show as a vulnerable 13 or 14 year old girl, she would have thought that suicide is the “easy way out,” and that it is the only option to get the attention she needed.


Several mental health experts say the show could pose worse mental health issues on teens who are already suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. Other experts say the show is prompting discussing suicide prevention.


To all students out there who are struggling: suicide is not the only option.  Please visit these sources for more information: