Australian actor Katherine Langford has taken on a challenging, yet necessary role, in playing Hannah Baker in the Netflix hit show ’13 Reasons Why,’ a character who has already committed suicide citing constant bullying and harassment from her High School colleagues, and releasing 13 ‘tapes’ to the perpetrators to explain her actions as her parting thoughts.
I will preface the remainder of this article by saying, I have not made it all the way through the series. It is heavy. There is subject matter in the episodes that takes me a few days to process, but I am eager to finish it off, not merely to find out what happens in the end, but for the over-arching message that this series is sending out.
Suicide and mentally ill-health have been a taboo topic for far too long – particularly in Australia – we’ve got a “toughen up” reputation and it seems we like to keep it that way.
There are reasons for not reporting or bringing attention to suicide as a whole, and these reasons are valid, don’t get me wrong, but they are also part of the problem.
The fact that we don’t talk about either of these things, particularly as teens, means that we fail to understand exactly what they are, how to cope with and deal with such feelings, and importantly how having these thoughts doesn’t mean that you need to – or are intending to – take action.
The Black Dog Institute and Mission Australia collaborated to produce the latest ‘Five Year Mental Health Report’ in Australia and it found that almost a quarter of Australian teens are suffering from the symptoms of a mental illness. Thats one in four, in classrooms and hallways all around the country. This has risen from 19% in their previous report released five years prior.
Mental Illness’ prevalence continues to soar among the general population in Western cultures. Whereas there are many individual triggers that may vary peoples’ onset of symptoms, many could be identified as societal pressure and peer pressure.
So why don’t we start talking about it? Why don’t we lift the supposed ‘ban’ that seems to exist over suicide, over the absolute epidemic we are facing?
13 Reasons Why is a step in the right direction for the acceptance of mentally ill-health in the grand scheme of things, and a step in the right direction to aid the discussions we need to have, but seem to not be having at all.
Back to the young, 21 year-old Katherine Langford who is at the centre of it all during her portrayal. Imagine how difficult a decision taking this role must be for someone of her age, confronted – no doubt – by things she would have witnessed (actively or passively) at her own time in High School; chastised on one side for the role but praised on the other; the flood of fan mail, messages, tweets and interactions she must have faced. Not all of it good.
With a role like this, comes something very harrowing. There will no doubt have been people suffering from a bout of differing symptoms that would have seen Hannah Baker as an idol, that would have fogged the glass between entertainment and reality, and I am absolutely certain that young Katherine Langford has had to be privy to some disturbing content over recent times.
People will have reached out, people will have praised her but most dangerously, people will have probably told her that her portrayal gave them the courage to leave this world.
No matter who you are, there’s always #ReasonsWhyYouMatter.
— Katherine Langford (@YourLangford) April 9, 2017
Playing Hannah Baker is the bravest and most significant part of this series, because not only is it opening the world up to a long dismissed and forgotten about area of society, but it comes with its own set of stressors and challenges of which we can only imagine the outcomes and the pain that it may have caused.
Things could have been done a little better – if anything I’d like to have seen a content warning or conselling numbers displayed at the beginning of each episode (NOT the end, because the habit of Netflix users is to skip the credits), that being said, I for one believe that the positives of bringing these issues to the fore far outweigh what negatives may lie within.
We need to progress as a society. We need to remain inclusive and we certainly need to understand – more than ever – how our actions could potentially affect others. Possibly fatally, as in Hannah’s case.
Look out for each other.
If you are uncomfortable with the content in this article or are experiencing any symptoms of a mental illness, please contact (Australia only):
LIFELINE – 13 11 14
BEYOND BLUE – 1300 224 636
SUICIDE CALL BACK SERVICE – 1300 659 467