SPOILER WARNING/TRIGGER WARNING: This article will be discussing suicide, depression, and abuse.
According to MentalHealth.gov, 1 in 10 young people have been in or are currently experiencing a period of major depression, and specifically, Black teens committed suicide at twice the rate of their white counterparts. The issue of mental health in America is one rarely talked about in depth-especially not in Black communities. Most conversations barely scratch the surface of a topic that is multilayered and urgent.
13 Reasons Why, a Netflix exclusive show that premiered in 2017 had a specific targeted audience of young teens. The show followed Clay Jenkins, a boy in grief after his friend/crush Hannah Baker had taken her life 2 weeks before. Over the course of the show, the audience learns about the different people who contributed to her suicide, while showing Clay’s descent into depression. Teenagers are the most vulnerable when it comes to the issue of mental health. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 12 and 21.
The states with the highest suicide rates, also are states with some of the highest rates of mental health professional shortages. Schools are also not funded enough to provide proper care to students suffering from any symptoms of mental health issues. 13 Reasons why did not help the problem, but rather exacerbate it. Shortly after the finale, numerous copycat suicides were reported. But why specifically this show? It all lies in the way the media is presented. According to The “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” there is a list of do’s and don’ts on how to handle showing a suicide in a show. 13 Reasons Why followed more of the “don’ts” rather than the “do’s”.
Within the Black community, there is a stigma surrounding depression, and other mental health issues. Black people are told to “pray their issues away” or that their issues aren’t as serious as they seem. Although spirituality can help many, it can isolate others. Access to mental health care is also worse than other kinds of medical services, making it hard for people to reach out–especially teenagers. In 2010, the number of mental health counselors was close to 156,000. Nowhere near enough counselors for the 15.7 million Americans requiring care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also noted that 89.3 million Americans live in areas considered “Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas”, and because of this, there will never be significant resources to get help to everyone who needs it.
The effects of this show may have a more dangerous impact than intended.
Maria* a high school student in North Carolina said the show made her feel helpless.“I felt so bad after watching. I sat in my room for two days bingeing it, and I didn’t feel normal after. I didn’t really learn anything after.”
Maria suffers from periodic depressive episodes. She thought the show would help her parents understand what she was feeling, but it rather demonized her plight. “They thought I would do something crazy like Hannah did. It made people with depression look bad in my opinion.”
Many other viewers had similar reactions, but reviews ranged from hailing the show as a masterpiece, to lambasting the show for its overuse of graphic scenes.
Advice to those who still insist on watching the show? Take it episode by episode. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests that taking breaks to process the content is a safe way to consume.
If you or anyone you know is feeling low, reach out to any of these resources:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Trevor Lifeline
- Trans Lifeline
- Crisis Text Line