Why I Won’t Be Finishing Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why’

I, as well as many friends and members of my extended family, have been deeply wounded and affected by the very real horror of mental illness. Because of this, the prevention, destigmatization, and treatment of mental illnesses are some issues I’m super passionate about. For this reason (and a love both for Selena Gomez and for anything Netflix puts out), I was beyond excited to watch the highly-anticipated Netflix original drama 13 Reasons Why.

For those of you who don’t know, 13 Reasons Why originated as a novel of the same name by the wildly talented Jay Asher. The fictitious story chronicles the short life of Hannah Baker, a high school student narrating to readers (via 13 audio tapes she recorded before her death) the 13 reasons why she decided to take her own life. Selena Gomez was originally slated to play Hannah Baker, but eventually chose to executive produce instead for fear of not doing the role justice. While I never read the book, I had heard amazing things about the power of the story and its effects on teenagers around the globe. Like I said, I was excited for the show, and I anticipated spending night after night procrastinating sleep through binging this new series.

I was wrong.

Regardless of how talented the cast and crew are, the content of the show is what bothered me.

But I guess I should start at the beginning. From the very first minute I started the show, I was struck by the talent displayed in such young actors. Parenthood favorite Miles Heizer is here with a new hair color and an even fresher attitude, but the rest of the squad (few of whom are even old enough to legally drink) is chock-full of newcomers, eager to show the world their talents while simultaneously telling a difficult story. To me, this fact is indisputable: The acting in this show is incredible, and everyone involved should be very proud of their work.

But regardless of how talented the cast and crew are, the content of the show is what bothered me. I’d like to preface this by saying that I can and do sincerely appreciate when movies and television tell difficult stories: For example, Big Little Lies was downright excruciating to watch at times, but it portrayed realistic and complicated examples of rape, domestic violence, and abuse. Indeed, the show was occasionally graphic, but it was billed as such. It aired at 9pm on HBO. When you see that timeslot and channel, you are more than aware of what type of content to expect.

However, when the primary audience of a story is young adults (the novel is billed as “Young Adult Fiction” – you can find it in the same section of Barnes & Noble as Harry Potter, a series written at a 5th grade reading level), different precautions need to be taken. While it’s undoubtedly important for teenagers to understand and engage in the world around them and the difficult discussions within, I find it incredibly disturbing how easy and convenient it is for them to gain access to the viewing of such graphic material. I, at age 23, couldn’t bring myself to watch more than one episode at a time, as I was so overcome with emotion each time I tried to watch. Not to mention, it showed up right at the top of my Netflix home page, sans rating or warning – anyone who visited Netflix in the last week and a half had access to all 13 episodes.

I understand what you might be thinking: But Abby, this is how we learn, and this is how our children learn. And I don’t disagree. But what I disagree with is the gratuitousness of taking a story that teenagers need to hear and turning it into a spectacle. Don’t believe me? How about this: In the book, Hannah kills herself by taking pills, but in the show, she commits suicide by the bloody cutting of her wrists with razor blades. This was a purposeful choice: the director chose to depict Hannah’s suicide in a more graphic manner so as to draw more attention to it. I know that you could argue that this was done to show those contemplating suicide just how horrible the physical act of it is; but that fact, in my opinion, is overshadowed by the fact that this is an example of Hollywood glorifying violence to increase shock value. I understand the monetary importance of doing so, but not when there are impressionable young people watching.

A well-written Forbes article touched on this – while the author was mostly praising the show, he did include an interesting paragraph in regards to the impressionability of this show’s target audience:

Knowing the impressionability of a young audience and still showcasing the potential justification of suicide is a risky game to play.

“By turning Hannah’s suicide into this engrossing mystery where she effectively does make everyone “sorry” with this series of tapes, I can see a few impressionable teens taking away the wrong message, that maybe they can do something like this too, and suicide can be a good form of revenge against those who have wronged you. And if teens are dealing with the same issues as Hannah, bullying, harassment, sexual assault, etc, the entire show is essentially Hannah justifying why suicide was the only option for her as everyone else in her life failed her” (Paul Tossi for Forbes).

The writer justifies this potential danger by saying that the end justifies the means – that the ultimately positive and hopeful message of the show outweighs the potential harm. But I see it differently.

Knowing the impressionability of a young audience and still showcasing the potential justification of suicide is a risky game to play. I made it to the fifth episode before I decided that enough was enough. As I watched, I was constantly texting friends who were further along than I was, asking for motivation to continue. “Just keep going,” they’d all say. “It gets worse before it gets better, but the end is positive!” Apparently, the way the show ends helps make the rest of it seem more bearable. But in my opinion, it doesn’t matter if “the end gets better.” A depressed teenager who watches enough episodes of this show to feel justified in their own decision to commit suicide isn’t going to make it to the end. An excellent opinion piece for The Odyssey spoke on this. “The suicidal mind latches onto any little tidbit that will encourage it to carry out its goal: to die,” writes the piece’s author. When you want to die, you will find every reason to justify it.”

A show that assumes that any potentially suicidal viewers will have enough patience to make it to the supposedly redeeming end of a graphically-charged  is a horrible risk.

If there’s a risk that even a thousand, a hundred, ten or even just ONE young person could watch this show and glean from it that suicide is their only viable option for revenge and satisfaction, that is too many. If, after stomaching nearly 13 hours of anxiety-inducing relatability with Hannah Baker, any one person wants to take their own life as well, that’s too many. I can’t fathom why we as a society could justify the potential risk of triggering our mentally ill young people into deeper depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal thoughts.

The conversation around mental illness is just getting started, and I look forward to being an active participant throughout my entire life. But, even as an avid lover of television and storytelling alike, I have to ask: Why do we have to see something just to talk about it?

If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

  • Dashingly88

    Hi Abigail, I don’t know anyone else who’ve seen the show to talk about it and I want to talk about it so badly. The first few episodes aren’t that shocking, but I was hooked from the very beginning. First of all, great cast and great music! But there are a number of times where I thought, “Is this why a teen would take her own life?”. The last few episodes become very, very graphic. But the one that hit me the most was the last one. The bathtub scene where she took her own life. It was so realistic and well acted and horrifying to watch. I got tears in my eyes. But the scene where her parents found her in the bath tub made me cry and was horrible as well. I don’t know why anyone would say that “it gets better” in the end. No it doesn’t! Another kid takes his own life because of what he did on those tapes. The whole show made me lose sleep and made me think of the kid who killed himself when I was in high school. I really hope that instead of making suicide a good way to get revenge, that the show shows that no matter what happens, suicide is not the option. I also hope that this show makes schools more aware too. All in all, I don’t regret watching the show.

  • TheGingerista

    As a viewer who lost her younger brother to suicide only a little over a year ago, I can understand this point of view. I do find it very difficult to believe that someone suicidal would find this to the be a trigger. As with Hannah, there are usually many other factors that can be attributed to suicide. I’ve watched the show and while Hannah had her reasons to take her own life, I truly don’t believe this show is a detriment to young adults. If anything, I hope it makes others aware of the seriousness and gravity of their actions as well as the signs of their friends needing help.

  • I’ve also been thinking a lot about this show since I finished it yesterday. As a sixth grade teacher, I pay attention to what my students talk about, and especially what they read. Some have read 13 Reasons Why. I knew what it was about, though I don’t have it in my classroom library and I haven’t read it myself. When they started talking about watching the show, I knew I would have to watch it myself. Now that I have, I am feeling a lot of the same things that you wrote about, the least of which being that my students are actually younger than the target audience. It’s a problem they frequently run into with the books that are available to them – especially those reading above a 6th grade level. They are at a point in their lives where young adult novels are immensely appealing, but sometimes more graphic and descriptive than they are ready for (whether they realize it or not).

    I feel lucky that I have a relationship with my students where they tell me about the things they are doing, reading, watching outside of school. When we return from spring break, we’ll spend a good chuck of the first period of the say sharing what we did over break, and I imagine I might hear about this show. I worry both about sparking more interest in the show if I say something about it, and about the thoughts and ideas it might bring up in my students and how I approach and handle those. It also makes me wish I had super-human reading abilities and could read each and every book that my students ever might read themselves so that I’m prepared for every eventuality and conversation – something that unfortunately, I can’t possibly do.

    • Teal Drake

      wow what a nice and caring teacher you are! My little sisters are in 6th grade and wish they had such truly thoughtful and concerned teacher as you are. Many blessings to you and your students!

  • Rachel

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on 13 Reasons Why. I have been watching it (I’m on episode 6), but had to take a break. It’s intense and deals with real life and very dark situations. The acting is wonderful, which makes it that much more powerful. After watching episode 5 I literally had nightmares. It is not for the faint of heart. I’m not sure if it’s not appropriate for teenagers or not, but I realize it protrays what teenagers are really going through today – hopefully it will be a positive influence for younger viewers. I plan to finish it eventually…

  • Anna

    Abby, I think you have a great point about gratuitous darkness. I’ve often been surprised at how we promote positivity in every aspect of life except tv shows. It’s cool to be positive but then spend our spare hours watching darkness (Big Little Lies, Game of Thrones, Westworld). There’s a difference between that and awareness. One can have positive effects.

  • Amber

    I actually thought that the show did a good job of taking the book and changing it to make it more of a deterrent to suicide. By changing it from taking one day for Clay to listen to the tapes it took longer in order to show the effects of her death on her parents, Clay and Tony and to show you that their lives weren’t better after she was gone, like she thought they would be, they were worse. And the only people that really got to hear the tapes were the bullies themselves and the only ones that seemed remotely affected by it (as far as their actions towards Hannah were concerned) were Alex and Zach which out of the group of them were probably the two people that did the least amount of damage. And although what Alex did was wrong I’m sure she didn’t want him to suffer so bad he took his own life. Or that she wanted to put into motion Tyler building an arsenal. So it showed that she didn’t really get much out of the tapes, unless Bryce’s parents can’t buy his way out of jail. It also showed that the guy she thought didn’t care actually loved her and that if she hadn’t have taken her own life she would have been able to have that life she dreamed of with him.
    i also thought they did a good job changing the ending. They director and producers said they wanted to change the ending because they were afraid the book ending would glamorize it and show it being to clean and easy, to deter that thought they changed it to a harder, more painful way, not to glorify violence but to prevent people from wanting to do the same, by showing that it’s hard, gross painful and not at all glamorous not to mention what it put her family through when they found her. I thought the ending also helped hammer home the shows concept of how your words and actions can effect others and that it doesn’t just affect the person you say it to, it trickles down.
    And while I think teenagers should see the show, I think it should definitely be with an adult so that they can discuss the themes in the show and their feelings about it with an adult.

  • Emily

    I’m really glad to see someone else who shares my thoughts on this show… I’m six episodes in and, while I do plan to finish the series, I can’t help but feel a tad uncomfortable. As early as episode one, to be completely frank, I saw this show as glamorizing teen suicide. While I’m a 29-year-old woman with no history of mental illness, and a firm grasp on reality, I can watch this show from a healthy perspective – but, I worry about the young people watching this show who might take away the wrong message. Hannah is NOT a strong person standing by her convictions, she’s a child who needs professional help… I also share the concern that this show targets young viewers when the complicated and sensitive content absolutely requires adult guidance to translate the subtle underlying message…which could be easily lost if you’re not mature enough.

  • Shannon

    I have to respectfully disagree with the author of this article. Forming a definitive opinion without finishing all 13 episodes is like judging someone without knowing their entire story. To me, 13 Reasons Why does everything BUT glorify violence to increase shock value. Instead, it presents the realities of bullying, rape and suicide in an honest, raw, and entirely real way. The show is not intended to be easy to watch. It’s supposed to make us uncomfortable and emotional. That’s the entire point. That’s the reality of the subject matter.

    As for the dangers of exposing such storylines to a younger audience, I find it absolutely important and necessary to do so. In the later, more graphic episodes, viewer discretion is advertised in order to prepare audiences for what is about to be depicted. Yes, children should not be exposed to this – but the responsibility falls on the parents to monitor their access to such programs, not Netflix. As for other audiences, 13 Reasons Why depicts what many teenagers experience, feel, or contemplate but are too afraid to discuss out loud. When I was 16, I noticed cut marks on my classmate’s wrists. I was too afraid to speak to her about it or to tell my teachers, because bullying, self-harm, and suicide were not subjects that I was comfortable enough to confront. Had I had access to a show like this that educates individuals on the warning signs, I may have been inspired to speak up.

    To me, 13 Reasons Why only supports and advances the need to address, understand and speak openly about such difficult subject matters. To me, it’s a show that everyone (of appropriate age) should consume and force themselves to bear. To me, it has immense value, and to write it off without experiencing it in full presents a major disadvantage to those doing so.

    • Frances

      Shannon, as a former suicide prevention counselor, I could not agree with you more. Kids already know about bullying, rape, violence and depression because many experience it themselves, or know someone who is. Sweeping it all under the rug and pretending that these things are not happening is not helpful at all. If seeing the show encourages kids in trouble to open up, or clues parents in that their child may be in distress, that is worth any uncomfortable feelings that may come up while viewing the program.

    • Taylor

      Shannon, your honesty is respectful and beautifully put. I cannot agree more with what you have said. This show does exactly what it should and it does so in an authentic way. To shy away from the truth of the subject matter would not being doing it any justice.

      It made me uncomfortable and emotional, just as you said. Importantly, it made me think. In Beyond the Reasons, one of the executive producers Brain Yorkey speaks about why they opted to depict Hannah’s death in such a graphic manner. He goes to say “We did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide.”

      I, like you Shannon, believe that this show has such value and should be a must watch by all (of appropriate age, yes). It opens up so much conversation (that truly needs to be had) with young people. I strongly believe people of an older age or of a different generation will understand a lot more about youth because of this show.

    • Andrea Speizer

      I wanted to write a response to this article, but nothing ever comes out the way it sounds in my mind. Your response really hit the nail on the head! Thank you!

  • Monique

    I think the show does a great job in bringing the topic of suicide into discussion. I don’t think it’s suppose to be easy to watch. If you watch the behind the scenes episode, they explain the reasoning behind changing Hannah’s suicide. They did it to show viewers who may be thinking of the same thing that suicide is definite and it isn’t pretty or painless. It was intense and I believe that this was done to take away the appeal of suicide, not to glorify it.

  • Jess

    I think you missed the point of why showing the graphic scenes are important. One of the reasons I love this show is because it’s honest. As someone who has been in a place and feel like there’s no escape, this show allows others who may have never experienced deep depression and/or the guilt and feeling that everything will get better if I wasn’t around. This show clearly shows how many people were affected because of Hannah’s death. She wasn’t alone, she wasn’t unimportant. Her death caused someone else to try to take his own life. The show clearly explains how our actions have consequences. As someone who has been in a position similar to Hannah’s and someone who has thankfully lived to see the other side, I’m so grateful for this show and the desire to not run from uncomfortable topics. As hard of a topic this is, in the past 17 years the suicide rate is increasing in children under 20 years old. This is a real issue that students need to learn. I was 13/14 when I was on the verge of suicide. This can affect boys, girls, rich, poor. Everyone needs to be more aware of the reality of suicide, and adults need to check in with children/ students and talk about these issues. Not simply wait until something terrible happens to start the conversatons

  • Yesenia

    I am so glad you wrote this article. I should be advised more to the public in regards to how this is a serious matter and on how something so serious is more then just popularity and to show off to the world.

  • Jacqueline Martinez

    HI Abigail, I just finished the show last night and I couldn’t stop crying. I felt so sad for all those people who have taken their own life because they felt as if there wasn’t any other option and I want to do something to help. The character who takes her own life Hannah didn’t have anyone who asked enough questions to help her open up. She was hurting and she even reached out to her school counselor who told her she needed to move on when all the signs of a suicidal victim were there. The show has an after show which helps viewers understand how teens are still developing their brain and they may not be able to communicate everything they are feeling all at the same time because its a lot! My takeaway is that we should be having better conversations with our teens, friends, parents etc. so that we can talk about these topics that may seem uncomfortable. I would rather have several good conversations with my child that may be uncomfortable at first than loosing my child. People need to know that mental health is very very important and schools, parents, friends everyone needs to be kind to one another. You never know what people are going through.

  • Maria Tarar

    Interesting take. I agree with you; I don’t think we need to change the story lines or anything but there are subtle ways of making a point. We don’t always have to be graphic.

    That said, I’m still going to try to watching… 🙁

  • Sofia Battaglia

    I think this article missed the mark for me. I’ve read the book and watched the series. It did bother me that they changed the way Hannah committed suicide. However, suicide among teenagers is a true problem. The other issues they addressed (bullying, sexual harassment, rape, etc.) are all *very* real graphic things that teenagers experience. The high school experience portrayed in the series is sadly the norm for many.

    Could somebody take it too far and use it as an excuse to commit suicide? Maybe. But if someone is heading down that road, they were already there before the show. I would hope that it portrays more of the devastation, confusion, and grief that happens post-suicide. More importantly, I think it sends the message of how our actions affect others, regardless of how much importance we place on our actions. I would not write off this show because it’s “graphic” when a lot of what teenagers are dealing with on a day-to-day is, indeed, very graphic.

  • Molly Erickson

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful post. However, I absolutely have to agree with Sofia below. I will say that suicide is not something to be taken lightly – but your opinions expressed in this article open up a wider conversation: sensorship and the arts.

  • sara

    I watched the series and though it was very disturbing at times, I think it is worth watching all the way through. I’d encourage you to also watch the additional material provided (trailers section- 13 reasons why- beyond the reasons) interviews with the actors, directors, Selena and mental health professionals as to why they made the choices, it was certainly not for exploitation, or to glorify for shock value

  • Jane S.

    Thank you for your interesting thoughts on the series. Your last sentence is absolutely true: Why do we have to see it to talk about it?
    Because it´s exactly the medium to reach today´s teenagers in their everyday life: Watching series. And what always has been my favourite aspect of reading and watching films/series is to be able to go into another person´s mind, to understand the perspective of a person in a different situation than me. And next to the potential suicide committing teens there are millions of teens just like Clay and the other schoolmates who might overthink they way of treating people around them. Seeing the dangers of your everyday attitude towards your schoolmates, being shown quite graphically what can happen is a kind of suicide prevention!

  • Elizabeth Ricci

    I cannot agree more. As someone who experienced a very difficult time in high school, this show brought up a lot of raw emotions. I have had to take breaks from watching it, as many of the others comments reiterated. However, I feel the same about the show American Crime on ABC- even though that deals with a whole slew of other graphic scenes. I do not think 13 Reasons Why is suitable for adolescents and absolutely agree that it could trigger deeper issues and actions. I appreciate that Netflix doesn’t block content, but maybe its something that needs to be considered.

  • Nicole Wilkinson

    I think this article – and often society as a whole – vastly underestimates the intelligence of adolescents and even children. If anyone thinks that teenagers don’t know about violence, sexuality, swear words, suicide, etc. then they clearly haven’t been or spoken to a teenager in a long time.
    This show is about teenagers, and is about something that happens to teenagers not infrequently. How can we possibly say then that the show isn’t appropriate for teenagers?

  • BrownieSugar05

    I understand Abigail’s point of view and why she does not want to complete the series. However, I agree with most posters here, especially Shannon. It was SO uncomfortable to watch, especially having mental illness in my life, but in my opinion, so absolutely necessary. It gives such an honest portrayal of how messy life can be, especially in the teen years, and what life is like for those left behind in the aftermath of suicide. It also helps me as a mother (currently my children are 7 and 3) to keep an eye out for signs as my children grow, that I may otherwise miss. It helps to understand what goes through teenagers’ minds because no matter how much we remember from our high school days, it is quite difficult to remember how final and irreparable those emotions feel at that point in time. For many of us, as adults, we have moved on from these feelings and know that “this too shall pass”. (some of us may still feel the same as we did in high school.) But for a child, they cannot begin to fathom that they can move on from those emotions. I don’t believe the show glorified suicide at all. In fact, it made it seem scarier (again, in my opinion). On the Netflix aspect, being that I have two young children, I have set up separate profiles for them stating “kids only” which means nothing beyond their age group will appear on their home pages (you can even put in age controls – preschool, school age, etc). As well, I have set up a parental control password, which even I have to type in when wanting to watch something beyond “kid appropriate”, such as “13 Reasons Why”. And as a previous poster stated, the last few, more graphic episodes, do have a warning in the beginning stating what the viewer should expect in the episode. One thing I think we all can agree on, is that this show has got the conversation about mental illness and suicide going. We shouldn’t need a show to do that, but if it does, I only see it as a positive step toward a better public understanding of mental illness.

  • Candice Meadows

    I love your point of view but I feel like I need to point out that Harry Potter is in the Children’s section of Barnes and Noble not the Young Adult section.
    And to address the point of: why do we have to see something to talk about it? I think we live in such a digital world now. If it’s not something we can see on a screen it doesn’t happen. And I think that maybe with us having this, for some, it makes them look up from the screen and at actual people.

  • LadyLikeGirl

    Honestly teenagers these days have sex at 15 years old and probably younger, so they not innocent lamb on the Prairie anymore, they know and experience serious things at a very young age, so I believe that they understand better that anyone what this series is about because they live that every single day. So they get that this serie just want to talk about the effects of bullying in high school and show graphically me or you as a person even if we are the most ”nerd” or inoffensive person in the school it can be a major suicide trigger even if I don’t realize it. So I believe this series give much more things to understand and to learn about than reasons to a teenager to kill herself, because if she’s already thinking about she/he would do it anyways, but this gives the chance to make teenage’s to think about their actions and to learn how can bad situation can go with just ”simple little bad actions” and how all of us are involved in this real high school issue called ”bullying” by doing or not doing anything at all. I think thats the most important massenge here and this is the correct way to show it to young people how are used to social media and graphics stuff, they play mortal combat and kill people online… their understand what the serie is about. The more open we talk about this thing and the more out there we put them, the more easy is to deal with it and stop it, if we keep protecting them by pretending like this thing dont happens we are just not telling them the truth and potetially creating psicological trauma.

  • Khaliah Ferguson

    thanks for this, I agree also My college age daughter and her friends were saying it was good. I got into one episode and felt weird that my daughter and college student friends thought it was soooooo good. After that first episode I thought hmmmm this feels weird watching this, and trust me I watch everything. But this show made my skin crawl. I remember a college psychologist during freshman week told the parents “asking your kids if they are suicidal isn’t going to make them suicidal” I thought of that when I watched the first episode but I guess as the author said in the post that your mind latches on to anything that encourages what you really want to do. I hope this doesn’t encourage anyone, of any age.

  • Kim B

    I’ve read the book, and your comments have helped me to make a more informed decision about watching on Netflix. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and personal experiences.

  • Dee

    Great piece! I agree with you. Although there can be different ways to receive and perceive this show, it’s important to look at the risk to the most vulnerable. It was actually in the news last night. A warning was sent out to schools and teachers (in my province only?) not to use this show as part of any teaching material. Wish the show would at least put an advisory warning on Netflix.

  • As a suicide survivor, this series was actually really triggering for me, but there was also one key piece of Hannah’s story that was missing – that one that, for me, would have put the puzzle together. The oppressive nature of depression or mental illness was keenly lacking in 13 Reasons Why – and that’s a problem. Yes, bullying and rape do horrible things to people and absolutely traumatize people for years, but Hannah was clearly dealing with something deeper that was never fully addressed – and I REALLY wish the series did a better job of depicting that as a key factor in her suicide; the avoidance of dealing with depression. I wish the series had made more of a point to showcase that ignoring someone’s mental illness or not getting the help they need is dangerous. Instead I felt like the series focused too heavily on placing blame everywhere else and even glorified making others feel bad. Shame and guilt only add to the stigma.