By Alexis Carr, editor in chief
Thirteen Reasons Why is a young adult novel written by Jay Asher. Published in 2007, the book gained great popularity, proving so by hitting No.1 on the New York Times best-seller list in July of 2011. With so much attention and popularity, the story soon took to the screens. Created by Brian Yorkey, the show began airing on Netflix on March 31, 2017.
The story revolves around the main character, Clay Jensen, a high school student who receives a mysterious package on his porch one day when returning home from school. The package contains seven double-sided cassette tapes created by Hannah Baker, a classmate who has recently committed suicide. Each tape explains a reason as to why she killed herself. The tapes were sent to various other people previous to Clay and explains why they each played a role in her death.
Although the book and show has gained immense popularity, it has also received a great amount of backlash regarding its graphic display of Hannah Baker’s situations leading up to her death. These graphic displays include: sexual assault, rape, bullying, and suicide. The concern of this content has even spread to parents and school districts across the country, even hitting home to Kenosha Unified School District.
In response to the rising popularity and discussion of the show, KUSD has sent warning letters to parents and guardians regarding the topic of teen suicide. The message stated a brief synopsis of the show, advice to parents on how to speak to their children about its content and images, and various other points about the show. As mentioned in the letter, they emphasized that the show failed
to mention mental illness and “comes dangerously close to romanticizing suicide.” Another thing that was stated in the letter was that none of the characters reach out to an adult, their school, their community or their parents. But the main concern comes from the belief that there will be copycats upon reading the book or watching the show.
However, many television shows fail to display or touch on important topics such as the ones that were shown in Thirteen Reasons. Thirteen Reasons is one of the few shows that does not shy away from accurately portraying these situations.
Even if it meant resorting to “graphic” scenes. Many actually praise the show for tackling these sensitive topics in a very realistic manner.
Hannah Baker actually did reach out towards the end of the story to her school counselor for help. Like many teens struggling with contemplating suicide, they have a hard time overcoming the fear of lack of understanding, judgment, or victim blaming. Which was exactly what Hannah Baker faced when speaking with her counselor.
Suicide is often a topic that many avoid discussing because of the sensitivity. Instead of trying to deter students and parents from the show, KUSD should embrace it. Schools, parents, and students should take this message and turn it into something productive. Nearly 43,000 Americans die by suicide every year. In fact, suicide has been rising at an alarming rate in the United States, especially among adolescent girls.
KUSD schools need to talk more about suicide prevention and education, amongst teens, parents, and staff. A few days discussing this topic within a health class is not enough time nor information to emphasize the severity of suicide, how to get help, ways to recognize signs, and how to prevent it. As a school district, it is important to implement more discussion with this topic so we can prevent a situation like this from happening.
We can not also expect those who are struggling with suicide to speak up as it is a very hard topic to explain and even to admit. That is why it is crucial to educate staff and students more on the topic. Realistically, someone seriously struggling with suicide is going to do their best to avoid telling others about their situation.
Thirteen Reasons why taught us that Hannah Baker could be you, she could be a friend or even a family member. Suicide prevention talk should not take place after the fact one has taken place. Schools and staff, especially within KUSD, need to take more of an initiative to understand how to handle and prevent suicide and educate students. Instead of trying to cover the topic and avoid it as a whole, we need to discuss, educate, and prevent. Take action now, not later.