An Autobiography of 13 Reasons Why

I just finished watching “13 Reasons Why” and “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons”. The former ends with deposition statements, so it seemed appropriate to have an (imagined) interview with the show.

I also suppose I should write “SPOILERS” at this point, although a synopsis of the show gives most of it away from the start.


Q: I imagine there are a lot of ways to approach suicidality, especially for a teenage audience. What was your goal in producing this show?

A:  Selena

Q: So how would you describe what you were doing?

A: documentary

Q: Ok, but this is fictional and if you’re not careful that mirror you’re pointing at reality could produce a distorted image. Do you intend to show the aspects of adjacent lives in a neutral and objective way, without bias?

A: doc-lights1

Q: I’ll take that as a no. Honestly, do those color temperatures, seen left to right as post and pre suicide, seem unbiased to you?

A: doc-lights3

Q: I concur. Y’know what though, it’s ok, grand narratives may have been pronounced dead but we can be postmodern without discarding nuance. To reiterate though: that makes this fiction that is overtly biased. Walter Lippmann had a term for that. Anyway, how about we start with a quick synopsis of what occurred as the inciting incident for the plot?

A: method-verbal

Q: That’s a little direct. Maybe indirect would be better. Hannah, can you speak to why you did it? You’ve clearly experienced a series of stressors…

A: blame-bad-decision

Q: No argument here. Brevity doesn’t mean incompleteness. Any objections?

A: blame11

Q: Why would you say that?

A: diagnose5

Q: Well, what signs were you watching out for? Can you give examples?

A: diagnose-obvious

Q: Were you looking out for the exact utterance “suicide” or “killing myself”? Is this a trained professional or Alexa? To be fair, it would be nice to have some reliable risk factors, but I don’t think there are many for cases such as this; the correlations that have been found are rather peculiar. For example, there is a significant increase in suicide in women who have breast implants, whether Danish, Swedish, FinnishAmerican, or Canadian – but the typical breast implant recipient is 34 years old, is married with two kids, and has a history of abortion. Likewise, there is a high risk for future suicide among those not living with a close relative and who avoid discovery at the time of attempt. None of that was directly applicable. So, what do you recommend when looking for signs?

A: diagnose-signs1

Q: So nothing at all. I’m not disagreeing, just not sure what you want to do instead…

A: duloxetine-blackbox

Q: Where did that come from? You take that every morning?

A: diagnose-recidivism

Q: So why do you have those? Who is diagnosing this kid? The lawyer mom or the literature professor dad?

A: diagnose-MAOI-AE

Q: What?! Is that supposed to be prophylactic Cymbalta? Who gives out PRN antidepressants? They should take at least 2 weeks to have effect. They also have serious side effects, including a blackbox warning for suicide. And don’t forget how we started using antidepressants: isoniazid was a tuberculosis treatment but the “side effects” of euphoria caused the drug to be rebranded as an antidepressant. So don’t believe it when they tell you there is no addiction potential or mood effects to worry about. Medications are not toys. Now, since we’ve heard the mother, are there any remarks from the father?

A: talk-tx-2-activityisnotaction

Q: I’ll buy that. Often people think they should interfere with another’s mourning, and that stems from the interlocutor’s not knowing what else she could do. So the mother feels as though watching another grieve without intervention is a judgment against her, and she resorts to purposeless hyperactivity to cover up her impotence and ignorance in the situation. This doesn’t mean I’m opposing talk therapy or mental health screenings or intervention, but preemptive treatment hasn’t worked in the past, and that’s assuming one correctly distinguished between bereavement and depression to begin with.

Since we’re on the topic, did Hannah even exhibit depressive symptoms predicting suicidal ideation, such as hopelessness?

A: diagnose-RolloMay

Q: Well, if “depression is an inability to construct a future”, as Rollo May says, then we’re not looking at depression. I understand the temptation to look for depression in suicide cases since more than half of suicides are depressed at the time. However, the rate of suicide among depressed patients is under 10%, which means that the majority of depressed persons do not commit suicide. More generally, across many different countries, the correlation between mental illness and suicide is very low (r = 0.102), and not even prior suicide attempts correlate well with future suicide (only more attempts). Around 28% of those that commit suicide have been to a psychiatrist in the past year, which means that about 70% had not been in a position to be evaluated. To sum up, those at risk are not readily evaluated, and if they were, we have few reliable warning signs to evaluate them on. So if not a mood disorder, what is your alternative theory?

A: brain2

Q: Retreating back to phrenology? Sigh. I’ve talked about this elsewhere, I won’t do it here. And what a brilliant insight: “teens may not recognize their emotions”. Thanks doc; in other news, sky blue, water wet. But to be empirical for a minute: Hannah, was this the result of an emotional outburst or a catathymic crisis?

A: narcissism-deliberate

Q: Guess not. Especially when you consider that the majority of attempts occur within an hour. Blaming impulsiveness is pretty much ruled out once one takes the time to map out blame, design the desired sequence for chain mail, and record over a dozen tapes. Any one else want to venture a hypothesis?

A: blame7

Q: I suppose you could diffuse responsibility across the most socially proximate individuals. Like I said previously, the majority of those about to commit suicide are not being evaluated by mental health professionals, so it is fair to consider others as better positioned to be front-line in suicide prevention. However, collective responsibility might have minimal effects seeing as high school is still based on a model from 1806 that was created to drill soldiers. A system built on that design, that is over 200 years old, will be hard to change. What makes you think societal factors are such a big influence anyway?

A: TLP-punchingpeople

Q: Ok. Here’s the deal with social learning theory, Bobo dolls and all: behaviors, however violent or benign, are modeled after being associated with an identity. The acts don’t occur simultaneously like a reflex, but afterwards due to a choice of association with a certain identity. Without wanting the identity, there is no motivation to imitate. And the peer group selects who is desirable, more so than the institution.  This makes it less about the school than about the students inside. Where does that leave us?

A: blame-adolescent-copenhagenstate

Q: That statement goes right to the nature vs. nurture question, which I should do a post or two on, but we can elide it for now. For adults, as Solzhenitsyn said: “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”. For adolescents, things are even more ambiguous. Adolescence is like an eigenstate, where multiple possibilities swirl around a youth’s mind with eventually one being selected and hopefully lived well. That’s like taking the heart that Solhenitsyn mentioned and introducing it to Schrödinger. In short, there’s no simple answer to navigating that. But without regressing further, maybe we should ask Hannah directly: who is responsible?

A: optionc

Q: Sorry, but we just went through all the prerequisite shades of grey. It’s now time for an answer. There is no tertium guadens in a binary choice between “you” and “everyone else”. This isn’t Airplane. What are you really thinking?

A: optiona

Q: So who do you blame?

A: narcissism-namemissing

Q: Now we’re getting somewhere. Notice that on the bottom of the page it says “there are others”. Whose name is not on that list? Where is Hannah’s name? Even by the person who committed the act, culpability is still extrinsic. This is as bad a case of fundamental attribution error as is possible. Is there no room for intrinsic motivation? Is Hannah just a series of events that happened to her? To say this would be to claim suicidality is a pathogen unrelated to one’s own thoughts. We can argue the rationality or irrationality of the act itself but that doesn’t mean it’s not a choice. Would you deny Hannah her agency as well as her life?

A: blame-choice (2)

Q: OK, obligatory sage friend trope née Tony. We don’t want to jump to blaming the victim here…

A: narcissism-drama

Q: When you say “drama”, I think “theatrics” and histrionic persons. But Hannah wasn’t seeking attention, nor was she exhibitionist. But you could note that she did seem as if she required recurrent infusions of external confirmation of importance…

A: narcissism-others

Q: Well said. Notice her statement is qualified not by “sometimes” or “it depends” or examples. She uses “always”. A narcissist will spend a lot of time ruminating on one’s own status relative to others. That seems to fit. Anyone else want to share their insights with Hannah?

A: narcissism-ego

Q: The paramour seconds the case for “drama”. That’s good for confirmation, so let’s consider this further. A narcissist will have a need to put things in terms of guilt and self, even if the events happen to another, and re-frame them relentlessly and endlessly, viz. ‘if I hadn’t done X, if I had only done Y’. So maybe she has narcissistic traits. If so, this may change what the tapes mean. Forget what motivates the recordings, what do they accomplish?

A: narcissism-creativedestruction2

Q: Sounds like narcissistic injury is the point of the tapes. The fact that the intent is being expressed through Clay and introjection is irrelevant because what he can do with tapes is what she is doing with the tapes. The tapes are an acknowledgement of events, but also a refusal to reduce one’s power in the face of them. For Hannah, that makes it a displaced rage that both targets herself and guarantees that others remember her. It’s rage because there is no pause to consider if the response is proportionate, nor to consider any possible guilt about what happens to relatives and friends left behind.

What’s the summary of charges on the tapes, again?


Q: And that’s why she targeted herself: her identity was under attack. It was her identity that was problematic, so that was the target of her shame. The first defense of a narcissist’s wounded self-esteem is to idealize (viz. feel important by association with) or devalue (viz. feel superior when compared to) others. It wasn’t working, her identity was being eroded, so she preoccupied herself with violence. Hannah, any more illuminating thoughts?

A: parasuicide1

Q: Well, this would explain the parasuicidal gesture method of attempt. If you look at the US data, the majority of completed suicides are done with a gun. For Canada, the major method is hanging. Both have a higher completion rate than overdose or cutting, which are more likely connected to gestures. For gestures, the goal is not to die. And a cluster B personality, such as narcissism, is a robust unique predictor of such parasuicide attempts among those with suicidal ideation. The suicidality serves to trade pain for a stable ego, to make things about you and your “fault” and to show that…

A: narcissism-pain

Q: Precisely. Even if it isn’t, now you’ve made it so. You’ve enacted your will onto everyone else, and your actions will cause people to suffer as a result. Why would you think that is desirable?

A: narcissism-insufficiency

Q: So they cared, but not up to your standards. What if we got someone, like a counselor such as Mr. Porter, to listen? Would that have changed things?

A: narcissism-stubborn

Q: So the die is cast. Any comments on this, author Jay Asher? Hannah does see Mr. Porter after all…

A: narc1

Q: So that’s settled. To make it official, any other producer want to hazard a guess as to what type of narcissist she is?

A: depleted

Q: Depleted or covert narcissist makes sense, as she does not have an over-inflated ego, but rather a sense of inner emptiness when the environment fails to provide external validation. Any dissenting voices to this?

A: truth11

Q: I’ll grant that how much we can “know” about fiction is debatable. That aside, psychological autopsy has its own problems of being based on hearsay. But even if we grant suspension of disbelief and take the tapes to be testimonial instead of hearsay, any insights therein are askew and we should view them askance. I mean, it is a suicide note after all. What makes you think its the truth?

A: truth-relative

Q: What?! What makes you think one creates truth? I’m assuming you heard this postmodern assumption from the tapes and not the garage. Who did you hear this from?

A: narcissism-training

Q: Great, the poet is training the narcissist. The problem here is that “what people fear the most is the troubles with which any unconditional honesty and nudity would burden them”, as a famous German said. I bring this up because now we have to remedy epistemology before we can do anything else. We must understand that her narrative will be self-serving. Did this lead to anything else?

A: truth-tapes1

Q: Well, as mentioned before, the danger of this postmodernist epistemology is that it ignores that models relate to reality, and pays attention only to the models. If the models are all there is, then models are equivalent, and “my truth” cannot be less than yours, under penalty of you being a bigot. I would say that’s the general idea, but conveying ideas becomes less important than the conveyance of a feeling. But regardless of motivation, a bigger question looms, right?

A: copycat

Q: Right. Assuming that’s true, we should be worried about copycat effects whether from Gloomy Sunday, The Sorrows of Young Werther, or anything else. To date, it remains controversial whether famous suicides incite others to commit suicide. Starting in 1998, China has experienced an increased number of carbon monoxide suicides from charcoal, allegedly in imitation of a Japanese movie, that has lead to charcoal suicide pacts in China, Japan, and Taiwan. In Austria, gun suicides were found to increase in the three weeks following a famous gun suicide, when compared to the three weeks prior. As a result, we have media media reporting guidelines. Is that a good idea? Is there anything to add to justify these regulations that is more substantial?

A: copycat-contagion

Q: Simply adding jargon doesn’t provide any more of an explanation as to how something as volitional as thoughts (eg. suicidal ideation) can be involuntary (ie. contagious). The counterargument is that media reports lead to people who would have committed suicide anyway to simply copy the method since influencing the choice of the method of suicide isn’t the same as influencing the choice of committing suicide. For example, Vienna built a subway in 1978, it started being used for suicides, and then guidelines were established to not report the method. End result: subways suicides decreased by 80%, but overall suicide rates didn’t change. Other studies claim that reporting increases suicidal ideation, but not attempts. Or it may be that suicide of anyone who is not your parents is protective ie. the Papageno effect.

But this is all assuming that suicide is unconnected to homicide, which it often is not. While the data are arguable about suicide copycats, there seems to be a strong connection with homicides. Are there any depictions that would make us worry about homicide mimicry?

A: homicide3

Q: That’s not good. But the motivations of the writers are pure, yeah?

A: homicide-season2

Q: Worse still. Especially since complaints based on copycat effects have been used against season 1. So if we can’t count on better judgment, maybe the austere business logic of costs to benefits and strict profit requirements will prevent another season from being made and showing such events…

A: season2

Q: Smh. In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus.


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