The series manipulates a thought we all had at one time or another, the power to have the last word. It is suicide as a fantasy of revenge, a way to get someone arrested and to consider how they hurt you and how wrong they were.
When you feel helpless, fantasy seems to be the only way to talk loud enough for people to listen. But it’s a fantasy for a reason, real life does not work that way. Depression does not work that way.
If you have not yet seen the show streaming on Netflix, the series follows a group of high school students who knew Hannah Baker, a comrade who recently committed suicide. Before her death, Hannah left a series of tapes detailing the people in her life and how their actions towards her led her to become suicidal and to take her own life. She entrusts the tapes to listen to them in order to understand the seriousness of their actions.
SPOILER ALERT: The film ends with one of the students, Clay Jensen, realizing that he should have reached out more to Hannah than perhaps his love could have saved her. Then he reaches out to another student who is in deep trouble.
I’m sorry, but it’s a big bullshit.
When Hannah’s mental pain became unbearable, it was because she had to survive a series of traumatic emotional events, yes, but most importantly, it was because of her mental health – a battle that takes place mainly in the private. The answer to mental pain is not that a guy loves you and shows you that you are worthy. The answer is how to survive these events and stay dignified when you do it. Other people can not save you, and you should not want it.
We know that Hannah’s biggest battle was mental illness because we understand the scale and purpose of taking away your own life. We get to know Hannah in the series and we know she is not angry to make a permanent decision to manipulate the guilt of people. It is presented as more thoughtful and multidimensional than that. If the traumatic events she suffered were the tip of the iceberg, we were never shown what was underneath.
And that’s where the story collapses. The kind of serious depression that leads to suicide is not caused by someone’s actions. No one else provokes this internal mental state, even if their brutal actions make depression more and more difficult to manage. You are still responsible.
If Netflix wanted to do a show about suicide, they should have worked with the author of the book Jay Asher, as well as the people who work in mental health. It’s common to have technical advisors involved in the writing process when you do not know what you’re talking about (like a writer with no medical experience describing complex surgeries in scenes for Gray’s Anatomy) and this element is cruelly default here. This would prevent people who have experienced depression from saying, “These people do not know what they are talking about at all. “