Mental health is a complicated topic to talk about. The different ways it is perceived by victims and society, as well as how it affects victims differently has led to some tough discussions and studies in our attempts to understand it better. There have been numerous ways to teach and learn about mental health, including medical studies, panels and now, TV shows.

Samantha Moore / Art Director

Samantha Moore / Art Director

These TV shows, sans documentaries, usually utilize mental health to further the show’s agendas. The show Southpark used the mental health disorder Tourette’s Syndrome as the focal point for their season 11 episode, Le Petit Tourette. That is just one of many examples of mental health in TV, and usually, the mental health disorder is not positively portrayed. There are some shows that try to portray mental health in a positive manner, such as The Netflix Original 13 Reasons Why.

13 Reasons Why is a series that focuses on suicide. Suicide is a mental disorder that is as complex as it is taboo to talk about. I’ve been fighting suicidal thoughts for many years now and I’ve noticed how awkward and frozen people become when suicide gets brought up. People often don’t know how to react, so they become apathetic or overtly empathetic. People don’t know how to relate to such an intense subject, which is why 13 Reasons Why has attracted so much attention. It’s seen as an opportunity to easily understand the viewpoint of a victim dealing with suicidal thoughts.

13 Reasons Why’s main plot’s point is high school life after a student suicide. This show has received a lot of mixed responses. It’s received positive reviews from critics, but generally negative ones from viewers. Many viewers state that 13 Reasons Why misrepresents suicide, as well as glorifies it. Viewers are also concerned that the people who struggle with mental health and suicide will be encouraged to act on their thoughts because of the show.

The first moments of the episode show a locker decorated with memoirs and love notes, indicating this locker is that of the student who committed suicide, Hannah Baker. From here, the series begins with multiple character introductions that all end in some sort of mystery or cliffhanger.

The show is based off a series of tapes that Baker made prior to her passing. These tapes are her story about her life and why she decided to end her own life. There tapes are delivered to the series’ main character, Baker’s friend Clay Jensen. From here, Jensen learns Baker’s story, where several events, mostly tragic ones, occur.

13 Reasons Why has good intentions, but is romanticized in the same way that all TV shows generally are. The show must be able to maintain viewers with a difficult taboo topic such as suicide (among other graphic topics). Thus, the show needs storytelling elements such as romantic interest, exposition and conflict. These necessary elements make 13 Reasons Why misrepresent and glorify suicide and life after the suicide in favor of creating a captivating TV show.

Viewers’ concerns about possibly triggering victims of suicidal thoughts are completely valid. Anything can inspire something or someone to do something and 13 Reasons Why being so romanticized is the main reason why viewers should be concerned. Any talks or panels that discuss such sensitive issues have a low chance of triggering because it is not romanticized.

I commend 13 Reasons Why for attempting to use such a taboo subject such as suicide as their main plot point. If 13 Reasons Why was hoping to portray how a suicide victim feels and what life is like after a suicide, the producers should have avoided relying on cliché drama that is present in most reality TV shows, but then the series would be better off as a documentary.

If you suspect someone is dealing with suicidal thoughts, or if you are yourself, the suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7.

Tim Smith can be contacted at

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