I know what you are thinking —-“This is ask a gimp. There aren’t any disabled characters in 13 Reasons Why. ” It’s true that there aren’t any PHYSICALLY disabled people, but mental illness and invisible disabilities can be just as debilitating. I am not going to go over the entire story because I specifically want to talk about mental health aspects. However, it may contain some spoilers so if you haven’t watched it yet, please do so first. Since my friend, Artemis, has struggled with mental illness I felt like she needed to be a part of this discussion. The following includes her thoughts as well as my own.
Plot overview —
This story begins with a series of tapes from Hannah on the 13 reasons why she committed suicide. We follow Clay’s journey with the tapes who is deeply affected. Despite a falling out before her death, he remains in love with Hannah.
He, and perhaps Tony, are the only ones who want to expose the various misdeeds of everyone else featured on the tapes. There is everything from bullying to manslaughter, but Hannah actually witnesses Jessica’s rape because she was hiding in the closet when it happened. Although we realize that there is nothing she could have done to stop this muscled up guy that was twice her size, she doesn’t feel that way. It tormented her to feel like she didn’t protect her friend and the saddest part is that Jessica didn’t even know what happened to her while she was passed out. Even though her mind can’t completely piece together what happened, it still takes a toll on her. For the rest of the show, she becomes a deeply depressed alcoholic that engages in some risky behavior. The stark contrast to the bubbly young girl that we met in the beginning is astounding. She no longer cares about cheerleading, her grades, or even her own appearance.
There is some evidence that Hannah is an unreliable narrator or as Tony puts it “This might not be the truth, but it’s HER truth.” We do know that she was being honest about Jessica because her boyfriend witnessed it as well. He was locked out of the room by the rapist and couldn’t stop it. He decided it would be best for Jessica to simply tell her Hannah lied about it and since everyone backed him up, she believed it. The guilt of lying to her created anger problems in him and depression in her former boyfriend, Alex.
It takes a long time for Clay to finish the tapes because he is working through the stages of grief and he’s still in love with her. When he finally get to their big falling out we are just as invested in their relationship as they are. The night of the party where Jessica was attacked, Clay and Hannah started to fool around. Clay asked if it was okay before continuing and she said it was. Unfortunately, her mind started racing with thoughts of other guys who treated her badly, called her a slut, and trashed her throughout the school. She panicked and yelled for Clay to stop and get out. He was understandably confused because she said it was okay. He asked what was wrong, but she yelled at him to get out. On the tapes, she apologized and explained what happened in her mind. She said he didn’t even belong on the tapes and that not talking to him was her biggest regret. Clay melts down and asks Tony if he was to blame for her suicide. Wise Tony tells him they all had a hand in killing her. It’s heartbreaking to see him blame himself for leaving her and we see what he wishes he did. He says he would have told her that he wasn’t leaving until she told him what was wrong. He would have held her while she cried and told her that he loves her and would never hurt her. Tony assures him that he only did what she asked, but he still hates himself for not handling the situation better.
We later learn that Hannah was raped by Bryce as well. She was already depressed and lonely, but this pushed her over the edge. She tried to work it out on paper who was to blame for it all, but realized it was everyone’s fault and no ones fault. She felt like she couldn’t go to her parents because they were overwhelmed by their financial problems and no longer has any close friends to talk to. She makes one last ditch effort to find help by going to the guidance counselor. Here is another case in which we know that Hannah told the truth because she secretly tapes their conversation. She told him about the bullying and even the rape. He asked if she said no and she admited that she kind of froze when she tried to get away, but couldn’t. He also warned her that it was a serious allegation, implied that she probably misunderstood the situation and told her to just move on. She hinted that she wanted to commit suicide and he let her leave because he was distracted by a call from home.
Even though the story begins with her already being dead, I found myself expecting a different ending. I hoped that somehow someone would stop her or that maybe it was all a dream. It actually made my chest tight to see that poor, lost young girl slit her wrists. It was very graphic and I am glad that it was so realistic because it was horrible to watch. Seeing her parents find the body was even worse for me. Her mother screamed for help and let out a heart wrenching wail. The impact of her suicide is huge and never-ending. The season ends with Alex in critical condition after a suicide attempt, Jessica telling her father about the rape, and Clay reaching out to his former friend who has started to self harm.
Psychological conditions featured
- PTSD: A mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — in this case it was rape. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety. Although Jessica didn’t completely remember what happened, it still had a major impact on her and triggered her alcohol abuse. Hannah also had many of these symptoms from witnessing Jessica’s attack as well as her own.
- Depression: Alex, Clay and Hannah experience clinical depression. Clay was even being treated for it with medicine before the series started. His mother is clearly worried and is trying to help him, but he won’t let her. Alex’s depression is causing physical symptoms in the form of stomach pains. His family seems distant so it’s doubtful that they know what is really going on with him. It is unclear whether or not he will survive the suicide attempt, but it does raise a good point. Around 20% of people who attempt suicide and survive are left with permanent damage.
- Self Harm: A lack of appropriate coping skills leads many people cut or burn themselves to deal with emotional pain. This is only touched on this season, but it seems like it will be explored further next season.
- Violent tendencies: One of the kids on the tape, Tyler, is on the fringes of the group and is being bullied by many of the kids. On the season finale, we see that he has a stockpile of weapons and ammo. It’s unclear what he plans to do, but it seems like he may shoot up the school in season two.
There has been some backlash. It’s been condemned for “glorifying” suicide. I saw it as humanizing suicide. It is often described as weak or selfish, but this showed not only the pain that it caused her loved ones, but also showed the pain that she was in. She was not thinking clearly and truly thought it was the only way out. Plus, they didn’t sugar coat the death scene. It was gruesome, painful, and horribly traumatic to her parents when they found the body.
There was also a surprising amount of criticism for Hannah not actually saying “no” to her rapist. Humans respond to a physical threat with fight or flight, but women can also freeze under duress. Does it meet the legal definition of rape if you don’t scream “no”? I don’t know, but I think it does morally. Consent is very simple. Ask someone if they want to have sex and if they say “yes” then it’s consensual. If they say “no”, are too drunk to make sense, push you away, or are passed out and you don’t stop then you are a pig —- case closed.
Some people found it rather frustrating that there were so many plot holes and no clear way to figure out how everything could have been prevented. I never really saw them as plot holes. I think it just showed the confusing nature of mental illness. Some of the inconsistencies of Hannah’s story were likely as a result of how she was feeling at the time. For example, she saw her parents financial problems as her fault because they were forced to move due to a conflict she had at her last school. (We aren’t told anything about the incident and it’s unclear if it contributed to her current situation) Since we are on the outside looking in, we know that the family pharmacy’s failure has more to do with the Walgreens down the road than anything else, but kids have a tendency to blame themselves. Clay’s mom is in sharp contrast with Hannah’s distracted parents. She spends most of show trying to get him to open up about his depression, trying to convince him to take his medicine, attending PTA classes on suicide prevention, etc. Clay just pushes her away leaving her confused and worried.
Mental health is complex because people are complex. There is no one size fits all treatment plan. The important thing is to keep trying. Don’t give up on yourself or your loved ones. If taking it one day at a time is too much, then just try to make it from one hour to the next. Because of shows like these, awareness is at an all time high. I truly hope that this encourages people to seek help. I also hope that it leads to more empathy for those who are struggling with mental illness. It is often seen as a personal failure rather than a medical condition. No one should suffer in silence. If you or someone you know needs help, here are a few places to find the support you need.