Some Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

by Andrew Unger

This is probably not the first time you've heard someone mention the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.  The show is about a teenager girl (Hannah Baker) who killed herself, leaving behind tapes giving reasons why she made the decision to end her life. Each tape is about  a particular person, and something that they did to contribute to Hannah's misery.

Instead of trying to offer a review or a recommendation on the series, I thought I would share a few points that I've noticed as I've been reading up on the series, and a couple of resources that give some helpful perspective.

[In case you are concerned about this sort of thing, there are probably spoilers in what comes next]

The show has some really graphic content

There are a number of scenes that are difficult to watch, including two rape scenes, and a scene in which Hannah kills herself by cutting her wrists in a bathtub, among other depictions of violence and sexual assault. There is a very good reason that it is rated TV-MA.

This show's impact is significant because of the popularity of Netflix.

Netflix is available on almost any device that connects to the internet, and many teenagers already watch a lot of Netflix already. I think that its popularity has been boosted by its distribution channel. I think comparisons to other popular teen movies and shows should take this into consideration.

The show's creators made an effort not to downplay the gravity of the issues brought up in the show.

They intended to show Hannah killing herself in a way that discouraged suicide. Drinking, substance abuse, and assault are all portrayed in the series, but they aren't celebrated. 

The show's creators might not have been successful in giving a helpful portrayal of difficult teenage issues.

A number of mental health groups have issued cautions about the show (here's some from the National Association of School Psychologists). In particular, many experts have talked about how on screen suicides often have a contagion effect, particularly for those who are already struggling with thoughts of suicide. To that end, it is not advisable for anyone dealing with serious depression or thoughts of suicide to watch this show.

Because of the sheer number of serious issues that come up in the show, it can provide a real opportunity to talk with adolescents about matters of mental health, suicide, or bullying.

You can talk about whether or not what's in the show reflects the reality of your student's experience, or about how characters might have acted differently or made positive changes.

The show displays a significant gap between adults (even concerned adults) and teenagers.

Chap Clark, in his book Hurt, writes a lot about how adolescents feel abandoned by older generations. It is on full display in 13 Reasons Why, which portrays well intentioned parents and teachers who either can't be trusted or aren't trusted with the problems in the lives of the students in the show. Because of this, one of the most important things we (as adults interested in caring for teenagers) can do is to listen, and help students know that they can trust caring adults in their lives.

One significant point of action that is crucial for all of us to hear (but especially good for adolescents) that comes out of the show is this:

If you or someone you know is struggling with serious crisis, get help. There are some helpful links at Please take comments about suicide seriously, and get help.

You can read some good talking points from suicide prevention organizations here,
There are some theological points to consider (from a Rector in Georgia) here.