Review of ’13 Reasons Why’ from a grieving mother #13RW

Let’s face it. Now that people are talking about suicide, we are not always going to be able to control the conversation. And in that case, we have to grab it as an opportunity to educate.

This Netflix series was created from a book and it’s designed for entertainment. It’s riveting and easy to see why teens are intrigued. But it’s also dark and potentially a trigger for teens at risk.

If they incorporated all of the suicide prevention recommendations, would it be something teens would watch? I don’t know. But how hard would it be to add a suicide hotline? That would hardly mess up their plot line.

I have watched all 13 episodes of the show. I binged them. Not a marathon binge because I can’t as a grieving mother who lost her son to suicide. I had to watch it like the teens watch it so I could see it from that perspective.

The good thing is that it is forcing conversation.

The bad thing is that I have heard from a suicide researcher that binge watching the show has been a contributing factor in a suicide of a 17-year-old who was at risk– meaning he suffered from depression. I say ‘contributing factor’ because suicide is complex, and the result of several factors including health, history, and environment. It is not a direct cause and effect event. Ninety percent of those who die by suicide suffer a mental illness. There is no reference at all to mental illness in the show.

So for many teens, this is a drama. For those at risk, meaning they suffer from mental illness, it’s a potential trigger. Considering that 18% of teens thought about suicide in the past year, that’s troublesome.

And 90% of all previous suicide attempts are unknown to parents. 

Here’s what I didn’t like:

No hope

It’s dark. Every single episode has not one single happy moment. There are no commercials, no breaks and the episodes come back to back so if you binged three episodes, you’d be watching a solid three hours of hopelessness. Nobody opens up to anyone and the few times they do, they are shut down. Zero compassion. Even less conversation and supporting each other.

Three hours of that can drag you down into the ‘nobody cares’ dumpster pretty fast. Three proved too much for me.  I don’t suffer mental illness but I did suffer the loss of a child by suicide and I quickly realized I needed to alter my pattern. I was able to do two shows at a time at the most.

I’m an adult with a lot of resilience so I can see why teens at risk might find this triggering.

The last scene leaves you feeling even less hope for the future.

Graphic scene of suicide

Netflix said they did the scene to make it real.

Bullshit. After 25 years in advertising and media, I know what they are after–an audience, media buzz, awards, and recognition.

They also did it knowing that people have a morbid fascination with death and gore and movie makers are fascinated with the aspect of ‘making it real.’ They put a warning on that episode. Might as well have put an invitation in the form of a neon sign. A warning label gives it more intrigue. However, it does serve as a warning to parents.

I have to say I could barely watch it. I thought I would be sick and ended up watching it through my fingers. I could not even breathe. It definitely plunged me into a dark hole.

Totally unnecessary, gratuitous. There is absolutely no upside to creating a scene that depicts suicide reality this graphic and gory.

Romanticizes the act and presents it as a solution

It’s everyone else’s fault so the blame game is bothersome.

While I think it does point out that actions can hurt and what you do matters, suicide is not a rational solution for any of the problems presented. Hannah comes across as a hero which is romanticizing the act of suicide. I don’t think it was intentionally designed to do that but it does.

No one who is suicidal would have the wherewithal to orchestrate an elaborate revenge scheme from the grave like this one. Tapes for 13 people all delivered with ideal timing is a huge task for someone in an irrational state of mind to pull off. Very Hollywood.

How the parents react is pretty accurate although it is not necessarily always how I would react personally. Sometimes was. Sometimes was not.

And one more thing, how many teens do you know can hang out at coffee shops on a daily basis at $5 a pop? I never had that much money as a teenager.

There are good points about the series and here I have focused on the concerns. Below are some resources to help you discuss the series with your child and a review from the perspective of

Below are some resources to help you discuss the series with your child and a review from the perspective of teenager who does suffer from mental illness and suicidal thoughts.

Allie’s Opinion on ’13 Reasons Why’ #13RW

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am the mother of two boys and the owner of emotionally naked, a site that reached a quarter million people in its first 18 months. I am a writer and professional public speaker on the topics of suicide, addiction, mental illness, and grief and currently working on getting a book published. I lost my youngest son, Charles, 20, to suicide June 5, 2015. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory.

11 thoughts on “Review of ’13 Reasons Why’ from a grieving mother #13RW”

  1. I think it really depends on the person watching. From my perspective she was what she thought to be backed against the wall. I didn’t see her as a hero I saw her as a young girl consumed by tragic experiences and not being able to express these pains. It is a dark show with very little “hope like moments” but I think that is how they really wanted it to tell the story. I beleive they wanted the message and hard to talk about subjects to be the main priority as Selena bought the rights to the book like ten years ago. So this has been in the works and a personal project for a while. I just think the takeaway is dependant on the individual.

  2. This was a spot-on analysis, Anne Moss. I really appreciate reading this from your POV. This series really struck a cord with me, as someone who experienced similar things in middle and high school. I was initially hesitant to watch the show because I was afraid to dredge up a past that I’ve spent the last 10 years forgetting. But here are some of my thoughts based on your 3 points:

    On the Hope point: This show was actually affecting my mood! I had to take a break from watching it when I realized the hopelessness was making me irritable and moody.

    On the Graphic Scene point: I haven’t watched this scene yet, and I don’t think there’s a reason to. But it makes me wonder – what if Netflix instituted a “Skip” option? A small transparent on-screen pop-up. Similar to what they do with show credits and intros.

    On the Romanticizing/Solution point: Hannah really does come out looking like a hero, despite the fact that she could have still become a hero without making the choice she did. I haven’t seen the last episode yet, but I feel like the best ending would be to show what life could have been like had she not made that choice. Like hitting “Rewind” and showing viewers that things can get better, that it’s not a real solution after-all.

    One other thing that bothered me: the impact that a School has. I think the series did shed some light on how much power a school has to either help or hurt the situation.

    What kind of role do you think the schools should have in this?

    1. Katlyn – I love those ideas. They have the cutting edge technology to make that happen. Otherwise, you have to watch it to FFWD through it. And that ending would have been great. They missed that whole “hope” piece. When I speak, I never leave without sharing a story of hope. This show should have done that as well.

      As for schools, kids spend 7-8 hours a day there and their influence is undeniable. It was also in my son’s case. Schools have way improved their identification of kids at risk since 2010. They are starting to do more education regarding depression and suicide although it’s not up to where it should be as it should be part of health class. I tried to push the point in 2010 regarding drugs and mental health but they wouldn’t budge or address the topic. I hit a brick wall for many years. They are now opening up because of the number of suicides.

      I think that we need more life skills training overall. Less than 2% of kids will ever use trigonometry yet we make it a big deal to get into college. Yet we don’t teach them how to buy a car or rent an apartment. Most of what I use today I learned in Home economics, Shop and yearbook club. We need to teach kids how to deal with certain life situations.

      Memorials are fine and help kids grieve especially if they are done for other students, but in the case of suicide, that memorial should be something tied to prevention, like an “out of the darkness” walk in memory of the students such as the upcoming one at James river High school. They made fun of posters in this series but putting the hotline and the crisis text line (741-741) out there is important. In fact, if I was a teacher, I’d make it mandatory to add the two numbers to the phone and have a discussion about a plan. So for instance, stop and wait while they plug in the numbers and then have a discussion that if anyone feels like they want to take their life, put it in their minds now that they call or text either crisis line. That would take less than 10 minutes.

      Planning in a rational state of mind what you are going to do should a crisis arise helps people when they are in an irrational state of mind such e.g. suicidal ideation. Mindfulness should also be taught starting in kindergarten. This memorization and SOL culture leave our children wanting of skills they need other than memorization.

      So those are a few things. I could go on and on…..

      1. There was a suicide hotline when I was in college. This truly needs to be made readily available to teens as well.

        1. Agreed! And making the hotline more available/known is only half the battle. The other half involves the stigma involved with calling it.

          1. Loved reading both of your thoughts on this. I had a long talk with my cousin on the phone about the topic of schools and guidance counselors. My cousin is in grad school at Boston University for mental health counseling and we talked about how it’s unfortunate that the unhelpful guidance counselor is probably a pretty accurate portrayal (for schools lacking funding to hire licensed counselors, or with too many student needs for one counselor to meet).

            On the other hand, I also know there are many incredible, attentive, proactive, and skilled school guidance counselors out there. So my hope is that the unhelpful guidance counselor in this show would not prevent or discourage any students from giving their guidance counselors a chance.

            Lastly, to add to your discussion on emphasizing crisis hotlines or adding hope somehow… I think (if they didn’t want to change Hannah’s ending) they at least could’ve added a story arc, with Alex standall or another student. Statistically speaking, we know that survivors of suicide loss can be more vulnerable and at risk for suicidal feelings themselves, so I think having a story arc, where one of the students (affected by Hannah’s death) becomes suicidal, but is able to find hope and help, could illustrate that different outcome/narrative as more ideal. It could show the student was able to get the help, understanding, and validation they needed (through a crisis line, the school guidance counselor, etc.) and see that there is hope and that suicide was not the answer.

  3. Wow – you are so so strong. People tell me I am, but I don’t hold a candle to you girlie. Being a grieving mother who also suffers depression, and hopelessness in general, I will not be watching… More power to you for the critique above and I hope it makes it to the producers, etc…

  4. Thank you, Anne Moss. I can’t even begin to imagine the complexity of feelings this brought up for you, but I so appreciate your insightful review of this series. Hope is so desperately needed and I’m grieved this was missing from the 13RW series. Thank goodness people can find truth and hope in your heart and words on this blog…

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