What’s the problem with Hannah Baker?


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons The Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why” has brought about wrongful concern from parents and school boards.

by Jenny DeStefano, Staff Writer

Netflix’s newest original series, 13 Reasons Why, has not ceased to entertain its viewers. Though the newbie cast and intense scenes made for incredible binge-viewing content, it has also wrongfully catalyzed dismay and outrage among parents, school boards, and even Australia’s mental health services.

The cleverly spaced 13-episode Netflix original series has captivated its viewers through its in-depth and pragmatic depiction of its main character. The series’ focal point, played by Katherine Langford, is Hannah Baker- a troubled high school junior who has committed suicide. Before her death, she recorded thirteen tapes identifying each person in her life and who instigated her suicide- the “reasons.” Each tape further explains the reasons why Hannah was led to her breaking point.

I have watched the series myself, soon realizing that it was hard to limit myself to just two episodes per day. The show touches upon multiple problems and how the teens in question deal with them: rape, bullying, depression, stalking, homosexuality, and more. But despite its realistic depiction of various troubles that teens deal with everyday, parents and schools nationwide refuse to accept the show.

Many believe that the show’s portrayal of Hannah’s suicide and the weeks leading up to it glamorize depression and mental illness, showing viewers that help will not be available if you suffer what Hannah did. What’s more, the Australian suicide hotline noticed a spike in calls after the release of the Netflix series, and instantly connected the increase in dials to the show’s content. Currently, numerous news channels have picked up the warnings that health boards across the globe have sent out, saying that 13 Reasons Why is not appropriate for its young demographic.

Personally, I believe that the show’s popularity among young adults and teens pries open the gap between families and schools regarding real-life issues.

Year after year, students attend assemblies that discuss how prevalent drug and under-age alcohol use are in Bergen County, along with the importance of “just say no.” We’ve seen a few movies or documentaries about standing up against bullying, being aware of cyberbullying and how to stop it. But what we aren’t taught about is mental illness and depression. I believe that this is because we truly live in what is known as the “Glen Rock bubble.” Nothing is addressed until it happens here, which justifies the drug/alcohol/bullying assemblies instead of the mental health lessons that we so need and deserve.

In my experience, mental health is barely touched upon in school.  During adolescence, depression and bullying is all around, constantly circling from friend group to friend group. I truly understand and sympathize with administrators because there is no easy way to address it, no “beauty pageant” answer. The issue of mental health is one that carries an unrelenting stigma and is overall a highly difficult topic to discuss with juveniles. But that doesn’t make it any less important.

I agree with those who say that children are prone to influence at a higher rate than any other age group. I also agree that television/entertainment and the media are influential entities on minors. Who doesn’t? But I can’t honestly say that 13 Reasons Why, this new Netflix series that is sweeping the globe and catching attention from all age groups, is negatively affecting communities worldwide.

Truthfully, 13 Reasons Why didn’t start a problem of gory glamour in entertainment, but it sure won’t be the end of it. One could argue that television shows such as Dexter or modern horror movies glamorize murder. Society has become more and more desensitized as the years progress. Everything has to be larger, better, and more innovative than its predecessor in this day and age.

So instead of asking ourselves “Does 13 Reasons Why idealize suicide?” and “Should the series be eliminated from Netflix?”, we should be asking ourselves the real question: “Why aren’t children more educated about mental health in school?”