Netflix's newest binge-able sensation is 13 Reasons Why. Based on the young adult novel by Jay Asher, the show discusses teen suicide and depression. After Hannah commits suicide suddenly, her family and friends at high school are left reeling. A few weeks later, tapes recorded by Hannah show up on her friends and enemies doorsteps. In the tapes, Hannah says anyone who received one is responsible for her death. Then, the plot unfolds with the tape receivers trying to figure out how Hannah sent the tapes to them and why they might have drove her to suicide.
The book and show do a good job with bringing exposure to teen suicide. It's not a topic that is often discussed or acknowledged in the mainstream — and it really should be. However, 13 Reasons Why does little to counter or mitigate the myths and misconceptions surrounding depression and mental illness.
Depression is a mental illness. It is a psychological condition that results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. While a traumatic experience or situation can cause depression to manifest, it can also appear as a result of genetics. It is a complex disease and there's not enough research yet to determine what specifically causes depression.
While Hannah blames several people in her life for driving her to suicide, it was her depression that made her feel that way. In reality, no one's actions or words were at fault. However, showing the symptoms and reactions of a person suffering from depression is important. Knowing and being able to detect the warning signs will help people notice when something is wrong with people close to them. And maybe help those suffering get the treatment they need for their disease.
And because it is a disease, it can't be cured from love and care alone. Near the end of the novel, Clay — one of Hannah's close friends who receives a tape — says he could have saved Hannah if he had just known that she was considering suicide. But that's not how treatment or recovery from depression works. Just like any other disease, there is no magic cure.
Love and support does help, but it's not a cure-all. You can't talk someone out of depression or suicidal thoughts. Perpetuating this myth in this story makes it seem like a valid course of action when it isn't. Someone suffering from depression needs professional help, not just the love of friends and family.
It's true that many people in real life probably feel the way the characters do when dealing with depression and suicide. However, the story only plays into myths and misguided ideas about depression, rather than working to counteract them.
Clay and others who receive the tapes rationally feel guilty. After all, the person they just lost is directly telling them that they caused her death. But there was no character in the show or the book who told them that it wasn't their fault. In fact, one character outright tells Clay that Hannah's death was his fault. That just isn't true. It wasn't anyone words or actions that pushed Hannah to suicide. It was her depression; her disease. 13 Reasons Why should have taken the time to point this out to the characters and the audience.