Wow. That was intense.
This reaction blog is late to come. I finished the season well over a month ago. Summer has been busy and I also wanted time to digest. I don’t know how people binge watch this show. It doesn’t shy away from addressing heavy topics. Anytime I watched more than 2 episodes at once, I could really feel it. I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. I say this in effort to help normalize any reaction you may have had. Also, I want to encourage people to identify people you can process your reaction with. It can be a lot to hold on your own.
The second season of 13 Reasons Why shows us what happens to the characters after the tapes have been released. Again, I want to state for the record that I do not believe this show glamorizes suicide. Season two shows us the impact that this traumatic loss had on a community. It also reveals new sides of these characters that we didn’t know in season one. Some of what we learn includes relationships we didn’t know existed and secrets that were held. The actors once again did an amazing job bringing these characters to life. We begin to understand more about why they either did or did not do certain things. Everyone has a story.
There are so many reactions that I have to this season. I’m going to try to focus on three main areas: responding to suicide, sexual violence, and how communities care.
Responding to Suicide
The school made the decision to no longer discuss suicide after a second student makes an attempt. While I do not agree with that choice, I do understand why they felt they had to do that. There is fear of a contagion effect. The suicide of one person or multiple people can contribute to a rise in suicidal behavior in others. However, it’s more complex than that. There are variables we need to consider including: if/how was it reported by the media, what details are known and what are rumors, how was it discussed in the community, how was it discussed in the school, what is known about individuals who may be struggling at risk already, and what support resources are available.
There is still so much stigma out there regarding mental health, suicide, and substance use. There’s also a lot of misinformation and a lack of education. This school was not in a good position to respond to this tragedy. We saw in season 1 that the counselor didn’t know what questions to ask or how to respond when Hannah asked for help. The teacher didn’t know how to respond to a poem that was shared which clearly was about someone in pain. But not being prepared isn't an excuse. These high school students needed someone to talk to about what happened. They needed resources. The therapist & prevention educator in me saw so many red flags and missed opportunities both before and after Hannah’s death.
Sexual Violence and the Legal System
With polaroids as evidence we learn that Hannah was not the only victim of sexual violence. This season we learn that one character is a sexual predator. We see characters trying to bring him to justice. This is a big challenge. One of the difficult parts about bringing a sexual predator is that these criminal cases often depend on the victim being a witness in the case against their attacker. This can be re-traumatizing for the victim.
The students search to find someone who is willing to go on the stand and share their story of being raped. When they find potential victims/survivors/witnesses these women express hesitations about taking the stand. One changes her mind once she is up there. It can be an overwhelming and scary experience to go through the legal system. This is why many people choose not to. When one student corageously takes the stand and shares her story, the perpetrator barely get’s a slap on the wrist. The judge says something along the lines of not wanting to ruin two people’s lives because of choices they made. My blood boiled here. Unfortunately once again there is misinformation and lack of education. This leads to a lot of victim blaming. Schools are starting to educate more about consent and sexual violence prevention. I hope one day our legal system will also start to change.
How Communities Care
Season two showed how relationships changed after the tapes were released. Some relationships grew stronger and others grew apart. One of the things we learned from the tapes and the show is that you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life. We don’t know the impact we have on the lives of other people. I appreciated seeing how some characters started to take care of one another in this season. If only more could have learned this lesson and applied it to more people. Then maybe we wouldn’t have the violence in the end of season 2.
This is the biggest lesson to be taken from this show - We need to care about each other. We need to do more. We need to ask more questions. Teachers, parents, professionals, friends… we need to reach out when we think someone may be struggling. We need to know the signs. I have seen people post comments saying "If you're struggling reach out. I'm here for you." The thing is sometimes people who are struggling can’t reach out. They need others to reach out to them.
13 Reasons Why Season Two did it again. It held a mirror up to show the deep, painful, struggles that people face. People every day are struggling with thoughts of suicide, depression, bullying, substance use, infidelity, secrets they keep from both themselves and others, and so much more. It’s intense when we see it all play out on TV with one group of students in one community. However, maybe that is more realistic than we realize. If we all stopped and took time to ask people in our lives how they are doing...if we really stopped to have a conversation and ask some tough questions, maybe then we would learn just how much people keep hidden.
There are people that say this show goes too far. Yes there are hard scenes to watch. The writers didn’t pull these types of events from thin air though. Assault, suicidal thought, substance use, and the other struggles depicted in this show happen more than we may realize. 13 Reasons Why has given us an opportunity to talk about these topics. Sometimes it can be easier to lead into a difficult conversation by talking about our reaction to fictional characters. I encourage you all to take the time to process your reactions with people you know. Then ask a follow up question. It might be something like this. “Have you or anyone you know gone through something like that.” You may be surprised at where the conversation goes. I hope that it is the first of many conversations. The key is to keep talking and keep caring.
Again, there is so much more I could say in response to season 2. I deliberately kept statements about events vague to not give spoilers to those who haven't seen it. Feel free to comment general reactions to the season here. I welcome to opportunity to talk more about specifics off line.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741