13 Reasons Why Season 2: It’s aim was to get us talking, so let’s do just that. (Part 1)

Series two of the controversial series 13 Reasons Why aired in May 2018 and does it have the public talking. Discussions about the show are running rampant in our schools, in our streets and are blowing up our social media accounts. While Season One focused on the life of Hannah Baker and what the show portrayed as reasons why she took her life, Season Two is based around her trial and delves deeper into topics including, sexual assault, bullying, self-harm and alcohol and drug use.

You may recall that upon the release of Season One, I wrote a blog detailing about the risks associated with the content, as well as information regarding warning signs and risk factors to look out for, and how to help yourself or someone you might be concerned about.

Please follow the link to read more at https://attunedpsychology.com/13-reasons-got-attention-lets-talk/

Today I’m going to do something a little different. There’s enough warnings on the web about the risks associated with the show content – even 13 Reasons Why released its own warning stating that “if you are struggling, this series may not be right for you or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult”.

But let’s be real for a moment. Yes, we can provide the younger generation with warnings, but how many will hear and listen? For every child viewer, how many are going to go home and ask their parents to watch it with them? How many of them would approach the school counsellor or a psychologist? Some yes, but not all.

So, I’m not going to provide a further warning, nor will I be condoning the show content. The show is out there, so we can either criticise it or use it as a learning platform to help provide guidance to those who may need it.

So, buckle up as I take you through Part 1 of this blog series, where I discuss some of the confronting, but very real issues outlined in the show and provide my insight into what we can learn from its content.

This blog will focus on two key themes: trauma and help-seeking.

In writing this, I hope that I help those struggling with trauma to understand why they may be thinking, feeling and behaving the way they do. I hope I support those around them to begin to understand what they might be going through, and finally, I hope that I can help at least one person to reach out to someone they trust to get the help they need to overcome their struggles.

Understanding trauma and “flashbacks”

Sexual assault is one of the most prominent issues depicted in 13 Reasons Why Season 2. Therefore, I will discuss Jess and Tyler’s stories. For your knowledge, this blog contains spoilers.

As you might know, Jess had been sexually assaulted while she was heavily intoxicated at her party in season 1. Season 2 follows Jess as she tries to “find the courage” to tell the court at Hannah’s trial what happened to her.

Tyler is the first to testify and tell the truth – he is brutally assaulted by other students during season 2. Unfortunately, Jess and Tyler are not alone.

One in five Australian women and one in twenty Australian men have experienced sexual assault, yet sexual assault remains one of the most under reported crimes in Australia.

A key theme that was highlighted but not explored by the show was post-traumatic stress and flashbacks. The show depicts Jess becoming distressed when she kisses Alex. Jess appears to be experiencing post-traumatic stress as a result of what she experienced. During the season, Jess experiences multiple flashbacks that take her back to the night she was assaulted.

Often, people think they are “going mad” or there is “something wrong with them” when this first happens (just like Jess did!). Flashbacks are a common response to a terrifying and potentially life-threatening event.

Flashbacks occur in response to triggers like situations, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations that take the person back to the traumatic incident, often feeling like it is happening again.

Jess’ brain learnt to associate certain smells, sounds and sensations from her assault with danger. Therefore, even when she was in a safe situation with Alex, her brain paired this experience with danger, making her feel incredibly unsafe and scared, as if the night was happening all over again.

Talking to someone can help…

Just like you saw in 13 Reasons Why, past trauma can come up at unexpected times and can make experiences that once felt normal and safe, feel incredibly distressing and unsafe. Talking about this can feel difficult too but discussing it with a trusted adult and getting professional support can help you to cope.

A psychologist can help you to understand what is happening in your brain when you experience a flashback and can teach you strategies to respond to triggers in different ways so that you can learn to cope and feel safe again.

Men are significantly less likely to seek help following sexual assault. As we saw in season 2, Tyler didn’t tell his mum what happened to him, likely due to shame.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, I want you to know you are not alone.

It’s frightening to know that one in twenty Australian males experience sexual assault and only the minority seek help. Our job as mental health professionals is to provide you with the support you need and to help you work through and cope with the difficult things that happen to you.

Some scenes in 13 Reasons Why show graphic content and may distress some viewers. It is possible that certain scenes in the show might have triggered you and brought you back to something you would rather forget. Maybe you didn’t share the same experiences as the characters, but the show still brought up difficult thoughts and feelings for you.

It is okay to talk about this with a trusted adult, and it is okay to seek professional support, even if it is just to talk about what the show brought up for you.

If you seek help and the help is not what you expect…

For some, seeking help for the first time is what we would like it to be – helpful! The psychologist (or adult in general) hears your concerns, tries their best to understand you and then does what they can to help.

Unfortunately, for Hannah Baker and some other characters this was not the case. The show depicted the adult characters as incompetent and unapproachable, and as my teenage cousin tells me – “they really weren’t people that you would go to talk to”.

If you can take one thing from reading this, if you seek help and feel that you aren’t being heard or understood, please don’t stop there – tell someone else.

If you are seeing a psychologist and you feel that you aren’t connecting with them, please let us know. We are here to help YOU, not our own self-esteem.

Unfortunately, psychologists are only human too – as much as we would love to connect with each of you, sometimes we might not. If we know how you feel, we can try to change our approach to suit you, and if that still doesn’t work, we can help you find someone who you do connect with. There will always be someone who can help.

Helping a friend

If your friend has told you that they are thinking about suicide or you are worried about them, please tell a trusted adult. I know it is hard when you have promised your friend that you won’t tell, but it is important to put their safety first so that they can get the help they need.

This is far too big of a responsibility for you to have on your shoulders – sometimes we need to share this responsibility. If we have more people on our “support team”, we are more likely to overcome our struggles.

Other resources that can help…

Headspace has some great resources to ensure that young people, parents and schools are equipped with the tools they need to safely watch the show, have constructive conversations and to appropriately respond to each theme. Please follow the link for more information à https://headspace.org.au/13reasonswhy/

Getting urgent help

If you are concerned that you or someone else might be in immediate danger, please do not leave the person alone unless your own safety is at risk. If the situation is urgent, please dial 000 or go to the emergency department at your local hospital.

If this is not an emergency but you are feeling distressed or unsafe, there is also the option to contact crisis support services now:

  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Mental Health Triage (Adelaide 24 hour service) 13 14 65 or your local crisis mental health service in other states

Often, seeking help and talking through difficult times can take some of the weight off our shoulders, so if you or someone you know needs some extra support please feel free to make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists at Attuned Psychology.

Remember to stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series which will be available in August on the Attuned Psychology website.

Ashleigh Stodden


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