Suicide Isn’t Entertaining, It’s Traumatic


Note: This article focuses on suicide and its portrayal in the media. If you need help, please text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call 988.

As we all know, the media often portrays suicide problematically. As Suicide Prevention Month comes to an end, we should consider how entertainment media has contributed to our perception of suicide. Unfortunately, many television shows and films portray suicide problematically—and one of the worst offenders is Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why.”

The show based on the book of the same follows high schooler Hannah Baker, a teenager who died by suicide. Hannah leaves tape recordings for her classmates, listing the reasons she died by suicide, which we see through the eyes of fellow classmate Clay Jensen, who harbored romantic feelings for Hannah. Though only the first season bases its premise on the original source material, the messages are clear: bullying can have deadly consequences.

The message sounds admirable, but the execution is more than questionable. 

I could talk about the issues with portraying bullying as the sole cause of her death, the gratuitous display of sexual violence for shock purposes, or the other many offenses this show has committed. But I want to talk about the show’s worst offense to me: how it portrayed suicide as everyone else’s problem and not a decision that Hannah made (albeit from a place of mental duress).

Suicide is a complex topic, and everyone should treat it as such. While saying that suicide is wrong or selfish is victim-blaming and dangerous, blaming other people for someone’s suicide is equally dangerous.

Yet, the show does exactly this. 

It tells us that the people who hurt Hannah caused her death. Hannah tells us this herself; she makes a tape and lists all the people who hurt her or didn’t help her and lists them as the reasons why she died. She sends specific instructions for people to pass the tapes along and listen to them in a specific order, so people will have no choice but to face their complacency and guilt. 

The show tells us that Hannah wouldn’t have died if other people treated her better. 

It says that Hannah’s death is not just the fault of her perpetrators but also of bystanders who didn’t act. It says, unintentionally, that suicide victims are vindictive and die, in part, to make others suffer. Finally, the show says that suicide is only preventable if those around you treat you better or offer support.

While support systems are vital in helping anyone going through a mental health crisis, it is never the support system’s responsibility to ensure another person doesn’t die by suicide. Blaming someone for not stopping or noticing someone else was suicidal places guilt onto them, which is wrong and can lead to negative mental health effects on them. 

This mentality also takes away the autonomy of the person who died by suicide, saying they wouldn’t have made that decision if someone had simply talked to them or stopped them. Like so many other sentiments on the show, this mentality oversimplifies suicide, painting it as something clearly linked to one series of events. It also puts the blame entirely on survivors.

Shows like “13 Reasons Why” feel less like a call to action and more like an excuse to sensationalize a taboo issue. 

And, as someone who has experienced suicidal thoughts, the show did everything but help me. I left the series feeling a sense of bleakness. It’s a very dark show that barely offers hope, leaving the audience with more darkness than light. It can be triggering, even if you haven’t personally struggled with suicide.

And the disturbing thing is, this show was meant to entertain. That’s admitting that suicide is a tantalizing topic that people are interested in seeing played out on screen like any other drama. If we didn’t consider suicide so taboo or controversial, I doubt the show would have gained as much popularity.

And therein lies the problem. We shouldn’t see suicide as something taboo. 

It shouldn’t be seen as an exciting form of entertainment. And it shouldn’t be seen as something shameful that you can easily point your fingers at and say, “You caused this problem.” Reducing it to something so grossly simplistic does more harm than good.

We need fewer shows like “13 Reasons Why” and more accounts of people who’ve experienced suicide speaking their truth. We need to hear more from suicide survivors, how they have moved on, and where they need support. Most of all, we need to hear more stories showing compassion for suicidal people and their loved ones. I can tell you firsthand that compassion goes a long way—and it’s something our society always needs more of.

Photo by Tina Markova on Unsplash


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