13 Reasons Why: Raising Shame

CW: discussion of suicide; mention of rape, self-harm

Recently a study revealed a connection between the 2017 Netflix show 13 Reasons Why and a significant spike in reported suicides between the ages of 10 and 17 in just ONE MONTH following the show's debut. The result of this study renews the argument between 13 Reasons Why's potential harm to at-risk teens versus its alleged benefit of bringing to light the issues of bullying, self-harm, and teen suicide to the public.

Both sides would have valid points if the argument ended there, but I believe 13 Reasons Why fosters an environment of unhealthy discussion and misinformation beyond even its inspiration for "copycat" suicides among teens.

If you've read any of my articles here on suicide, mental health, or spiritual abuse, you'll likely see a pattern in my convictions against any alleged benefit of shame. Yet Netflix's 13 Reasons Why (season 1) chooses the questionable wisdom of portraying teen suicide, rape, self-harm, and bullying in such a hopeless manner that, in the end, the show actually promotes shame as a healthy motivator to prevent or stop such behaviors.

Yes, each character contributed in one way or another to the ostracization and abuse of Hannah, the girl who made the tapes meant to be listened to post-mortem. Yes, Hannah underwent unspeakably horrible abuse which led her to believe her only escape was suicide. But what isn't addressed is the issue of ownership.

We are only responsible for our OWN choices.

Sometimes you can love someone, support someone, drive them to counseling, intercede on their behalf, invest in them…and that person will still choose to end their life. In that last, final moment, someone who has chosen to follow through with suicide is the only one responsible for that choice. (Also see: How do I cope with the loss of a loved one to suicide?)

But 13 Reasons Why says, "If people had done something different, if someone had intervened/noticed/cared, then Hannah wouldn't have killed herself." Period. They claim this is an absolute fact. By saying this, the show doesn't only shame the conscious abusers, but it also shames the people who didn't know what "something" they should have done or the people who did do something but "did it wrong."

13 Reasons Why is a terribly unhealthy example of loving a friend with mental illness.


Because it places the friend's ultimate fate in the hands of another. For one thing, that is disempowering to the sufferer of mental illness. They need to be assured that they have control over their own choices—not told their fate is dependent on others. For another thing, that mentality pressures ill-equipped yet well-intentioned people to magically see into the heart, mind, and soul of another in an attempt to "fix it."

What 13 Reasons Why intonates is that if you do everything right, then you can stop a suicide. And that if you are unable to do it right, regardless of how little or hard you try, if your friend dies by suicide, then their death is YOUR fault. This shame-based mentality is so harmful and incredibly destructive to the very sensitive conversations the show producers claim to support.

Believing a shame-based mentality is helpful...is aggressively FALSE.

Yes. Our society needs more tools and awareness of how to support our friends and loved ones with mental illness and suicidal ideation. But how is shaming those who don't understand the best way to combat the shame of mental health and suicidal struggles?

Shame combating shame just leads to more darkness, more despair, and to an endless cycle of "never good enough." And regardless of 13 Reasons Why's careless or honorable intentions, this message of not being good enough further promotes the mentality that no one actually has control of their own actions. Which is not true!

13 Reasons Why says it wasn't Hannah's fault she decided to end her life; it was everyone else's fault. This implies that Hannah never had any control over anything up to the very end. And THAT idea leaves no room for hope.

Why 13 Reasons Why is cruel...

It is cruel to those who have attempted suicide because Hannah's story reinforces the lie that there is no other way out but suicide.

It is cruel to those who simply didn't know the state of the person they loved who chose suicide.

It is cruel to those who have researched mental health in order to help their loved ones, who have loved them, who have done check-ins, who built support networks to help...and whose friends chose to end their lives anyway.

If you are trying to understand suicidal ideation better because of a friend or family member, please, please, PLEASE do not use 13 Reasons Why as your research.

Use the professional advice of a doctor or counselor. Research what the National Institute of Mental Health says. Read our articles here on 412teens.

Friends, there IS always hope. There IS always a choice.

Pray for wisdom. Pray for strength. Research.

Raise awareness—not shame.


Suicide Prevention: Seek Help Now
Writer/Editor: September Grace

September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.

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