A common cliché of a depressed teenage girl is the girl who is dressed in all black. She is reserved, her style slightly gothic, and she uses her mysterious charm to intrigue and attract others. Her manner is deemed “cute” or “quirky” — maybe even “trendy.” The stereotypically shy and sad demeanor of depressed people is alluring to those who think they can “fix” them. Hannah Baker, the protagonist of the hit Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” represents this tired image of depression by submitting to these exact, romanticized stereotypes.
In the show, a girl named Hannah Baker commits suicide, but before she does, she creates 13 tapes. The tapes are meant for the ears of 13 people — each tape addressed to a different person who affected her decision to end her life. The show is dangerously flawed in its portrayal of suicide as a revenge story. People kill themselves to escape a reality where they can no longer stand to exist — not to make others feel guilty about the way they treated that person. The show romanticizes both suicide and the cliché of depression, belittling the experience that real suicidal people endure.
Think back to “Romeo and Juliet” or “Anna Karenina” and you’ll see that suicide has for hundreds of years been used as a classic representation of drama in literature and film. “13 Reasons Why” is no exception. The show is listed under the Netflix category “Teen TV,” which demonstrates that shows with heavy topics such as suicide are becoming normalized entertainment for teens. It is healthy for teens to be discussing difficult issues, but not in such a casual and individual manner as watching a show on Netflix would entail. Last week, The Phillipian published an editorial about the casual usage of phrases on campus such as, “I want to die,” or “I’m going to kill myself.” I often hear this kind of language being spoken by my peers. It is because of these phrases and shows like “13 Reasons Why” that our generation has become so desensitized to topics of depression and suicide.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. Suicide is not entertainment. It should not be seen as mystical, and it certainly should never be romanticized. I cannot and will not stop people from watching “13 Reasons Why,” so instead, I ask people who who watch it to think about how the show’s harmful misrepresentations trivializes depression and could affect suicidal people and people with close friends or family members that they’ve lost to suicide. Suicide is serious and caused by hopelessness and extreme internal suffering — not a fun, mysterious plot that creates hot drama.