13 Reasons Why is back for a second season and no one quite knows how to feel about it. Last year, I had given the show a glowing review: 13 Reasons Why you should be watching it (yes, I’m lame). But since then, there has been intense discussion on how the show may actually be a trigger for those who are going through mental health issues, and many feel that it inadvertently glorifies suicide. While I didn’t have a strong opinion about it then, as I couldn’t put myself in the shoes of those who’ve gone through something, my life gifted me those shoes last year.
Since recording my review of the first season of 13 Reasons Why, in fact, somewhere in the month right after, I was diagnosed with anxiety (Not because of it, of course!). It’s taken me a whole year to get to a place where I am better – not all better, but better. And I’m now watching Season 2 of the show as someone who is, in fact, in the very shoes that I spoke of, and have walked a very long and exhausting road in them as well.
I have written and spoken a lot about my anxiety over the last year (In fact, full disclosure: I’ve even done a video in association with Netflix to help spread awareness about mental health) but to give you context in terms of TV: when I was at a low, I couldn’t even get myself to watch a show like Black Mirror because the mere thought of consuming dark, dystopian and depressing worlds that it brought to life would give me severe anxiety, as during that phase, I’d subconsciously channel the angst and anxieties of others unto myself. This may sound bizarre to you but it took me a whole two months before I could get myself to a place where I had the mental strength to be able to watch it, and manage to not get triggered by it.
I had to quit my day job, take a sabbatical from Film Companion (that’s why I was missing!) and give some dedicated time of my life to make some huge life changes and even bigger changes in the way I think and feel, to get to a place where I was better. And if you’d have asked me to watch 13 Reasons Why season one during this phase, I just couldn’t have. And I wouldn’t have. And even if I did, I know I’d have had to stop at some point, because it would’ve been wayyy too overwhelming.
So I now acutely understand all discussions that took place about the show last year, and I have been able to make sense of it this way: I still think the show should be watched by everyone who has no sense of what mental health is, and how fragile young people are, and how bullying and terrible behavior can cause a ripple effect of trauma to those whose stories you have no idea about. I still do believe this is a show that somewhere, beneath all the cheesiness, is a show about the consequences of being unkind – and hence, a propagator of decency in behavior.
But to people – especially young people – going through mental health issues of their own, I’d advise strict caution and ask them to watch season one only if they feel they are in a place where they are not triggered by the pain and suffering of others who may have gone through something like they have themselves.
Thankfully, in season 2, I’d have to do no such thing, for two reasons:
- The show and Netflix have taken the criticism aimed at them last year very seriously and have taken complete responsibility about how the show may affect those going through something. So at the start of the season – before the first episode begins, the primary cast of the show comes together to tell the viewers that the series deals with tough, real world issues, and if they are struggling with these issues themselves “this series may not be right for you”! It is such a bold, brave and completely necessary move, that I wish this is the kind of advisory that would appear in more shows and movies that can get too much, instead of tokenism like ‘Smoking kills’.
- The makers have even created an online resource pool for those who may be going through something – AND for those who need to understand what it’s like for those who go through – and having gone through it in detail, I’m so, so impressed at the level of diligence and accountability taken. There are discussion guides, videos on how to talk to someone going through mental health, how to spot signs of depression, what are the various forms bullying takes and even helpline numbers that you can call if you are going through something (including ones in India). Find it here: http://13reasonswhy.info/
I only wish that some of these discussions took place directly within the scope of the show as well (and I really wish they would have shown how much therapy can help), but in a time where there’s hardly any conversation about mental health, I’ll take what I get. The show, this season, continues to tackle some tough topics (while remaining cheesy) and depending on where you stand on the mental health spectrum, it may seem either sensitive or triggering, but the good thing is: it’s a necessary conversation, and the show is supporting it with the kind of ancillary material EVERY ONE SHOULD READ AND WATCH. It’s a longer and more complicated debate about whether a show like this needs to exist, but since it does, this is definitely the right and only way in which it should.
And for those who may be going through something and may not feel entirely safe about watching the show, the kind of TV that helped me in this time were either feel good (Like Lovesick and This Is Us) and comfort shows (like Friends) or sitcoms (The Office!) that helped me forget for a bit what I was going through, or those that helped me understand it (You’re The Worst is terrific but BOJACK HORSEMAN IS WHAT YOU NEED TO WATCH RIGHT NOW!). To quote a line from Bojack Horseman that really helped me in my tough times: “It gets easier. Every day, it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the tough part. But it does get easier.”