Warning: Spoilers ahead!
There are few people who survive adolescence unscathed, whether it is mentally, physically, or emotionally. Most people are able to overcome the death of loved ones, abuse, sexual assault, and other serious matters with time, proper grief, and sometimes therapy. For many people who have survived trauma, whether it is a car accident or an eating disorder, there are certain words, scenes, images, and ideas that may cause them to slip back into an earlier time of trauma — these are called “triggers” and are well-known in people with eating disorders or people who self-harm. If those individuals read or see images of someone participating in self-harm or talking about anorexia or bulimia, even in a negative manner, it can cause them to regress in their coping and sometimes re-ignite the behavior or perpetuate unhealthy grief or negative coping skills.
Many social media users and internet sites have become savvy to that concept, and have included “trigger warnings” to help readers or viewers avoid psychologically or physically damaging “triggers.” It’s much like a “graphic content” warning, but usually more specific as to what is portrayed: self-harm, physical trauma, eating disorders, sexual assault.
Of course, some movies are so fraught with these themes that the “trigger” warnings may never end. Despite the tremendous success that the Netflix mini-series 13 Reasons Why has received thus far, the movie has been characterized by some as one large “trigger” that may send viewers into very difficult psychological places.
Although the mini-series is based on the 2007 book by young adult author Jay Asher, the themes are often enough to make seasoned adults wince. Hannah Baker is a typical teenage girl, or so it would seem, when a series of events happens to her that she claims causes her to take her life. She characterizes these events throughout making a series of tapes, making sure that they arrive posthumously on the doorsteps of people that she determined “contributed” to her suicide.
Some of these situations may be what many people consider to be unkind but typical high school behavior: her best friend ditching her, another girl spreading rumors about her. Some of the content, however, is much more grisly — a horrifying car accident that leaves a classmate dead, graphic depictions of violent rapes, drinking to the point of unconsciousness, bloody fist fights, and the most disturbing scene of all, when Hannah climbs into a bathtub and roughly slits her wrist, allowing the viewer to see all of the blood loss that ensues and Hannah’s subsequent death. All of these situations could be considered “triggers” by many psychiatric experts, meaning that viewing them or reading about them may make someone who has experienced a similar situation regress in their healing. In other words, for many people, 13 Reasons Why is a psychological minefield.
According to Just Jared, fans themselves decided to put together a list of “triggers” that occur in each episode so that viewers can either be prepared or skip that episode. There are some themes that run through every episode, however, such as extreme bullying and some type of blood loss from someone. Others, such as Episodes 9 and 12, include hard-to-watch rape scenes and much mention of sexual assault. The final episode includes Hannah’s bloody bathwater spilling over and running into the hallway as her mother comes home and finds her dead.
Of course, psychiatric health experts have viewed the series with mixed emotions, with some calling it helpful for suicide awareness, and others saying that it is possibly harmful in its presentation. Kristen Douglas, mental health expert and national manager of Headspace, says that while the topics themselves may be important, the portrayal of them is potentially harmful to some viewers.
“We need to talk more about youth suicide, but there’s a way of doing that and a way we can raise those concerns and have a range of awareness. But we need to steer clear of really dangerous things like method, or oversimplifying it to one thing like bullying.”
Readers, what are your thoughts? Did you find any particular triggers in 13 Reasons Why that affected you?
[Featured Image by Netflix]