'The most damaging character in 13 Reasons Why wasn't even a student.'

Content warning: This post deals with themes of suicide.

The noise over Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why has been so loud it’s drowned out almost everything else on the internet this week.

Rumoured to be the streaming platform’s most successful TV drama series to date, writers and mental health advocates have come out in droves to debate one hot topic:

Is this show opening up an important conversation parents and their teenagers needed to have for decades? Or is this a dangerous grab for money that’s simply guised as some concerned act of advocacy?

The web – and indeed Mamamia readers – seem utterly divided.

But between the countless memes, listicles, and opinion articles penned by columnists – I’ve searched for something I just couldn’t find.

Where are the voices of people who have lived this? Where are those who have had their lives penetrated by the dark tentacles of suicide? What do they think of 13 Reasons Why?

I decided to find out.

I spoke to 28-year-old Lee (she chose not to share her last name), whose little brother Mark died by suicide a few years ago. He was a twin and 24 years old when he passed away.

While there aren’t many parallels between Mark’s mental illness and the fictional storyline of Hannah Baker, Lee does worry about the messages 13 Reasons Why sends to high school students.

Her main issue with the show is a character I hadn’t even bothered to think about – Mr Porter, the school guidance counsellor.

 Her main issue with the show is a character I hadn't even bothered to think about - Mr Porter. (Image: Netflix)

“I know [13 Reasons Why] was meant to encourage conversations between parents and kids, but I don't understand how it does that when the one person who reached out to for help, didn't get any," Lee told me.

"So why would teenagers watch that and want to go get help themselves? If people are suicidal watching that and thinking about seeing the school counsellor, and they saw that scene where Hannah was told to get over [her rape]... why would they?"

LISTEN: Is 13 Reasons Why helpful or dangerous? (Post continues...)

It's a pretty significant downfall - one that the opinion pieces and video interviews seems to have missed.

How can 13 Reasons Why legitimately encourage teenagers to discuss their mental health issues with adults, when the only adults it depicts are at best detached, and at worst utterly ignorant?

"I agree that there are professionals like [Mr Porter] who are like that, but I think they could have done better, because there are also people who aren't," Lee told me. "I know that the show would put me off getting help if I needed it and was at school.

"This wouldn’t encourage anyone to get help at all. It encourages silence, and keeping things to yourself," she said.

It's just one of the reasons Lee feels lethargic about 13 Reasons Why - she loves the idea of opening up discussions about mental health, and creating a dialogue between sufferers and their support networks, but there's a certain way it should be done.

"It felt like characters were rewarded for their secrecy or something," Lee said. "There wasn't any punishment or consequences for staying silent, or reward for speaking up, which I didn't like."

To suggest that people who take their own lives are doing so out of revenge is also troublesome, the Sydneysider said. Because suicide isn't about revenge, it's about deep depression.

"I know that with my brother, he left us a letter, and went out of his way to make sure there was no inconvenience to our family," she said. "The last thing on his mind was making people feel like shit. I feel like Hannah put all this crap on people and [suicided] as a revenge thing, when that's such a simple way to look at it.


"The story I’ve lived is that people who suicide just don't want to be in this world anymore. My brother thought he was doing more damage being alive, he wasn't trying to make us feel guilty, he was trying to make us feel the opposite.”

Lee and her younger brother, Mark. (Images provided/Netflix)

The most contentious scene of the season, where Hannah takes her life in the bathtub, should never have made it in either, Lee said.

“I was surprised that they shown that scene, I don't think they needed to show her cutting into her skin. I get that they’re trying to be dramatic, but I don’t know if including that scene was wise.

“I don’t agree with all the stuff coming out about it being a positive influence… I just think there wasn’t much to come out of it, really."

So, given our need to talk about suicide and mental health more, does Lee think 13 Reasons Why was worth it, and if she could go back in time, would she still watch it?

“I didn’t think it was particularly amazing," she told me. "They had me hooked on the drama, but now I know I wouldn’t want to watch it."

If you or a loved one is suffering mental health issues, Mamamia urges you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the Beyond Blue website.

Has your life been touched by suicide? What did you think of 13 Reasons Why?