Tuesday 23 May 2017

A Somewhat Late Article On 13 Reasons Why And What Constitutes As Depression

 Instead of writing a review on the book/show I've decided to actually address the shows major theme and why I think it's important to look beyond all the characters and the story development to focus on what the show is really delivering.  Note, if you haven't read or watched 13 reasons why, this post will contain spoilers. 

 I know I join the numerous written articles debating the show and whether it was "good" or not (in fact, this post has been published later than intended). But for all the arguments I've had with people, I've decided writing about it will give me a better opportunity to explain myself. Hannah’s story has received criticism for singling out and placing responsibility of her death on her classmates. She puts the 13 people, including Clay her only friend, through a terrifying listening experience, which has been condemned as traumatic and insensitive. Yes, I can acknowledge the plot set up might not portray the best means to get across a suicide story but beyond the plot development and character arc there is a lot more to take out of 13 Reasons Why. More specifically, I wanted to address the depiction of depression and how it’s important to understand the different effects it has on people.

 A lot of Hannah’s problems were a result of high school bullying. For a person who is not in high school anymore and has much more than school reputation and bullying jocks to be concerned about, it’s really easy for me to consider what Hannah went through as somewhat trivial. I find myself telling my younger brother to “get over it” because in the long run adult life is a lot more stressful. Yet, when I think about it, everyone’s feelings is valid, regardless of what they are experiencing. I failed to acknowledge that my brother’s feelings were hurt, much like Hannah’s, and that can produce quite negative repercussions. In Hannah’s case, the false rumours made by Justin, Courtney and Marcus reduces Hannah to being “easy”, which gave her classmates a reason to devalue and demean her relentlessly. Despite none of it being true, and knowing full well she was better than that, Hannah had no one who would believe her or stand up for her. 

In reality, there are people who face this daily. It’s never a good feeling to constantly be reduced to one degrading word or not be recognised as an actual human with feelings. It’s hard then to not feel hopeless, lonely and somewhat sad and angry at the world. These emotions are the bare surface of what can lead to depression. I know a lot of viewers have said that 13 Reasons Why is an inaccurate representation of depression but I beg to differ. I’m no expert at this topic and wouldn’t say that I understand depression 100%, but I have experienced it for a good part of my life and know that there is a lot more to depression than what people think. There is no set mould for depression. Instead, everyone experiences it differently and from various reasons. Some people might think high school bullying is nothing compared to what they’ve gone through, but that doesn’t mean their feelings aren’t valid. During my high school years, right up until 2nd year university, I was fighting my own battles with depression. I felt lonely, lost, constantly angry with myself and that I was just wasting space being alive. It got pretty bad. Because of this, I can really relate with Hannah. How I felt didn’t stem from the same reasons that Hannah had, but it produced pretty similar feelings. We tend to think depression as just being immensely sad. In actual fact, depression doesn’t mean you’re constantly moping around and crying. I could go a whole day laughing and joking with my friends, then come home and just feel all this sadness, bitterness and emptiness settle in me. Much like how Hannah conducted herself, a person suffering depression can go about their lives as they always have, but have these feelings manifest within themselves. People who suffer depression mask it very well. It’s hard to detect but everyone feels something different and for different reasons. I could never tell someone that their feeling of depression is the wrong way of feeling it. Imagine how insensitive and just downright condescending that would be. 

 Many argue that Hannah should’ve sought help instead of placing blame on everyone. I would never blame anyone for someone taking their own life. Yes, Hannah had her own issues and the actions of those around her drove her to commit suicide, but no one will ever force someone to do it. However, again, depending on how someone experiences depression and what they think about it, it’s never easy to talk about how you’re feeling when it’s hard to describe and the person might not take you seriously. Hannah had no friends to confide in after losing them to the false accusations she was facing. When she decides to talk to the school counsellor he was completely out of his depth. He kept questioning her feelings, doubting her claims of rape, and just had no idea how to listen. Personally, I felt I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt because on the outside I was always constantly a bubbly, cheerful person. If I was to say something, I was worried people would think I was attention seeking and to even think of dying, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing that burden on someone in case I did do it and they would blame themselves for not being able to “save” me. When Ryan publishes Hannah’s poem, expressing her desire to die, her classmates all thought she was just crying for attention. How do you then seek someone out to confide in them when that’s the first thing that think about you when you talk about wanting to end the pain? All you can think is that people don’t care - about you, whether you die or not - and maybe it is easier to do so. 

 13 Reasons Why had problematic plot developments and character arcs, but what I gained from it is something I feel like we all should recognise. No matter whether you think someone’s issues are trivial or not, their feelings are still important and worth acknowledging. As decent human beings, it would do us good to just be nice to everyone, to show that we care and that everyone has a worth. You will never know what is going on in someone’s life. There is no need to make it worse by being petty and demeaning because words will always have an affect - even if you think you’re just joking. No one should have to go through depression, especially not alone. If you feel like you are alone in this world, I promise you, there will always be one person out there who cares. It’s not easy to see the light at the end of tunnel but I can ensure you, it is there. It’s okay to seek help.

 I really hope I articulated what I wanted to relay in the best way possible, but depression is a serious issue and even if you didn't enjoy the show, there still needs to be an acknowledgement that 13 Reasons Why delivered a powerful image on what one version of depression looks like amongst the many other experiences people have.

For national help lines within Australia read here and here.

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