Why I told my wife not to watch 13 Reasons Why - Thomas Stevens

Why I told my wife not to watch 13 Reasons Why

A response to 13 reasons why by Thomas Stevens

I remembered holding my wife’s hand while we were at the hospital for a panic attack….and it wasn’t the first time we have sat in the hospital together. A few years before that moment I stood by her when she attempted suicide.

Rach & I have walked an incredibly difficult journey together. In all of it we have stuck together and seen that there is a life beyond mental illness, late night visits to the hospital and panic attacks…a life free from all of this.

We now live a life full of hope.

Rach spoke about this recently in her blog: We Need to Talk More About Hope

We have reasons to passionately emphasise hope in hopelessness… because we have walked and lived the journey.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the show 13 Reasons Why. Sitting down and watching it, I was shocked by its highly triggering content. Immediately I recommended to Rach NOT TO watch it.

Why?

It gives 13 reasons to choose death, not life…

See the stars and director of 13 Reasons Why intended to create an open conversation around mental health. It has definitely sparked conversation. Aiming to confront youth with issues around bullying it explicitly shows suicide, rape and self-injury.

There is no denying that 13 Reasons Why is at times very effective in encouraging people to look beyond their own circumstances, being more aware of those around them who may be vulnerable. The show has many persuasive scenes illustrating the negative impact of bullying, gossip and harassment.

It does, however, take a dark path in delivering this message, which is concerning.

That’s why I told my wife not to watch it.

While it is a fictional account of mental illness, the scenes evoke real life memories and experiences of viewers. Much of what is portrayed is tragically true. What I’m saying is the fact it isn’t a true story doesn’t deter the impact of the content shown….

And yes there is trigger warning BUT….

Each episode has nothing following it encouraging people affected to seek help. Often it’s not until after someone watches something that they realise how much it has affected them. If someone is struggling are they really in the right mindset to make an informed decision on whether the content will trigger them or not?

Secondly it clearly communicates 13 reasons to choose death…

Painting in many ways a romanticised picture of suicide. Throughout the show Hannah uses the tapes as a way to share her story and the events that led up to her taking her life. Each of these tapes confront situations that need to be discussed. Overall, however, these tapes could be seen as a way she exacts revenge on those who have done her wrong. I feel that in some way this could romanticise suicide as it is seen as source of power.

Many counter this perspective by noting that there is nothing appealing about the suicide scene which graphically shows Hannah taking her life. The production crew’s intention in showing the suicide in full, was to help to deter people in illustrating that it is extremely painful and horrific. Research, however, reveals that showing the suicide in a graphic way as they did in 13 Reasons Why does not deter the appeal of it.

Victor Schwartz, a psychiatry professor at New York University, states:

“As disturbing as it is to most of us, there’s the potential that for some people who see it, who are really struggling with something, this winds up being in some way strangely appealing.” In trying to do good, there is a the potential to do a lot of harm. He goes on to say, “…it will have an effect on a few of them, and when you’re talking about a life-and-death effect… It’s small statistically, but it’s obviously desperately significant.”

Every life is valuable. Every life counts.

When we are talking about people’s lives, every life is significant. The question we need to ask with that in mind is do the positive messages of the show, outway the potential negative impacts?

The show does a very effective job of showing the failures of her friends, family, teachers and school counselor. This is aimed to confront people of the reality of their actions. For someone going through it however it effectively showed the lack of support Hannah had. People need to know rather that help is available and it is definitely worth seeking out.

To conclude my wife wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t received help. If she hadn’t held onto her faith and hope. She needed to be told that help was available. We live in a culture of instant messaging, receiving thousands of images, ideas and influences every single day.

John Brogden the former chairman of Lifeline Australia and survivor of a suicide attempt writes:

“In our attempt to make mental illness “normal” we have failed to make suicide wrong. This is not a simple distinction. It’s about making sure that people in crisis and thinking of suicide know it’s not the right thing to do for them or their family and there is always a better choice.

My theory is that more Australians in crisis are choosing suicide because in normalising mental illness we have, in the minds of some, also normalised suicide.

We want people to choose life. To do this we need to send a clear message to people in crisis that living is the right choice.”

Rach passionately inspires people that there are so many reasons to choose life. I’ve had to remind her of all the reasons to choose life when things were hard…remind her of her amazing potential and that she is more than her current circumstances.

We need to remind people there is HOPE and they have FUTURE.

If you need support call Lifeline on 13 11 14

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