I have to admit, I was quite undecided for a long time about whether or not I approved of Hannah Baker’s suicide attempt being graphically depicted on “13 Reasons Why,” a Netflix original based off the book written by Jay Asher.
When I first heard about the release of the show, I was thrilled. Finally someone, somewhere was talking about mental illness. I wrote a blog post titled “’13 Reasons Why’ We Need to Continue the Mental Health Conversation,” which I am going to reblog tomorrow. I still feel the same way I did about what I wrote. But I also know that I used the TV show to start a general conversation on mental health without delving into the specifics of what I liked and didn’t like about Netflix’s portrayal.
Seeing the suicide attempt on my TV initially caught me off guard. Hannah Baker’s death was not described in Asher’s book, and so I was unsure about how Netflix would go about showcasing it. At first, I felt relief. Here was a fairly accurate portrayal of one of the ways I tried to take my own life. I knew many people were seeing the raw, uncensored, deadly effects of mental illness for the first time, and I liked that. Especially because it is so difficult for me to broadcast my own suicide attempts, I was thankful someone else was doing it for me.
But the more I pondered it, the less I thought about the mentally healthy individuals who were being educated by the show, and the more I thought about the mentally ill individuals who were also being educated, but in a terrible, potentially fatal way. Like many other mental health advocates, I feared for the lives of those who saw Hannah Baker in the bathtub and thought, “I want that to be me, too.”
I thought back on my own struggles with mental illness as an undiagnosed bipolar teenager, and I was able to conjure up a very faint memory. I thought back to the very first time I ever self-harmed. And I thought about how I started. What crossed my mind? What convinced me do it?
I remember what happened that day, the first day. I was 13 or 14 years old, even younger than Hannah, who is 17. I was upstairs alone in my room texting a friend. My friend disclosed to me that she had self-harmed. She told me exactly how she had done it, exactly how she felt doing it, exactly how everything worked.
So what did I do?
I tried it for myself.
And thus began my 6 year addiction to self-harm, which only ended when I was properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19.
Would I have self-harmed if I hadn’t heard from this friend? Of course I can never be sure. I have no clue if I had ever considered doing it before she told me. I currently have a chapter in a manuscript about my life where I detail my self-harm struggles and suicide attempts. After the “13 Reasons Why” controversy, I am not sure whether or not I will take those parts out. Because they are so crucial to understanding me as a person with a mental illness. But I worry that the wrong person will read it at the wrong time and fall victim as well. I don’t know what to do.
Two years later, after millions of people have watched the series, Netflix has removed the suicide scene from “13 Reasons Why.” I am thankful for this. I do not think people need to see her exact method of dying in order to get the point of the series. However, I do find it to be a bit too little, too late. Hopefully next time, those who truly want to advocate for the mentally ill will listen to those individuals for whom they are advocating.
I think this blog post proves that I am still unsure of what to do to continue the mental health conversation without putting the lives of the millions of people with mental illnesses at serious risk. But I think of my young teenage self, the one who was still wearing a training bra and who barely knew the definition of the word “bipolar”, the one who was so sure something was wrong with her but didn’t know what, and I fear for her life. I wish the day she started self-harming had never come. I want to protect her so badly. But I cannot. I can only try my hardest to protect the people like me. I think Netflix is finally taking a stance in trying to protect the people like me too. And so I am grateful.
CALL 911 if there is any possibility of you or someone you know is hurting or will hurt anyone.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK for 24-hour crisis support
Online National Suicide Prevention chat at chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Text NAMI to 741741 and connect with a professional crisis counselor
Online mental health screening at mentalhealthscreening.org (though this does NOT substitute for a professional diagnosis)
Check out ok2talk.org to read about other people’s mental health journeys and submit your own
Find support for suicide loss survivors at allianceofhope.org
Find over 30 hotline numbers specific to your crisis at: