Saving Hannah Baker – Surviving High School and Preventing Teenage Suicides

Today we’re taking a look at Hannah Baker, a teenage girl in the Netflix TV show 13 Reasons Why who commits suicide.  The show revolves around one of her friends learning the hard truth behind the reasons why Hannah decided to end her young life.


DISCLAIMER — I am not a psychologist.  The analysis and opinions formed here are from my personal experiences as well as general thoughts.  Seek professional help if you or somebody you know is being bullied and/or in danger of committing suicide.


That being said, in the previous article, I mentioned that I was a victim of bullying in the forms of endless teasing and (mostly) verbal harassment.  This began late in elementary school and continued through the end of middle school, a time span of roughly four years.

In those days I was very socially awkward.  I didn’t know how to dress, I wasn’t aware of modern slang and pop culture, and I had a particularly bad dandruff problem in my hair.  Combine all of that, throw in a neighborhood bully or two, add some bad rumors, and there you go.  I was an easy target for those people who wanted to laugh at me, insult me, and find new ways to put me down on a daily basis.

There was occasionally some pushing and shoving, and I remember some of my school supplies being stolen from time to time as well.  More than once I recall full backpacks being thrown at me on the school bus.  When we had those sex ed classes in middle school, the verbal sexual harassment increased tenfold.

Did any of my classmates come to my defense, or even alert a teacher about the harassment?

No, of course not.  The golden rule was to look the other way and be glad that you weren’t being targeted by the bullies.  I don’t blame any of them for not stepping forward.  I was well aware of my personal problems, and until I changed myself, then the bullying was likely to continue.  It’s not like those people were going to stop picking on me just because somebody said so.  That’s not how bullies worked in the real world.

The bullying ended at the end of middle school.  My classmates and I seemed to quickly grow up when entering high school, and those people who were picking on me found other interests as well.  It was also a large high school with over 1,200 students, and there were a variety of ways to avoid troublemakers.  On top of that I joined the JROTC program and found a really good group of friends.  Plus we wore a military uniform once a week, and nobody messed with us on those days.

THE CASE OF HANNAH BAKER

In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah Baker was teased and tormented by her classmates for over a year before she slit her wrists and committed suicide.  Before taking her life, she left behind thirteen audio tapes in which she tells her story, calls out those who wronged her, and explains why she had reached the decision of killing herself.

Hannah suffers a rough journey as her reputation is tarnished, her mind is crushed, her body is abused, and not even the school offers her any help.  She has friends and classmates who betray her, she witnesses blatant criminal activity, and she is sexually assaulted by the school’s most popular jock.  The final straw is when the school’s counselor basically tells her to deal with it, and does not offer any help, even when knowing that she’s suicidal.

Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article if you want a synopsis of the episodes.  I’m not going to review every single episode here.

How could Hannah have made different decisions while still maintaining a social life in high school?

Right off the bat, Hannah strikes out by accidentally choosing the wrong guy to date.  Although Justin seems like a mostly nice guy, he’s immature and chooses to spread an unflattering photo of Hannah as a way to make him look better to his friends.  He tells his jock friends that he scored with Hannah, and he uses the photo as proof.  The photo spreads like wildfire along with the rumor, and right off the bat Hannah’s reputation is tarnished.

The hardest part of dealing with a bad rumor is riding it out for those first few days, especially in today’s age of instant messaging and social media.

You have to accept the fact that no matter what, the photo is going to spread and people will add their own comments.  Nothing is going to stop that.  You main options are to, A) Get angry and make a scene with Justin in front of everybody, or B) Ignore the photo.

Remember that time kills rumors, especially if there’s no further evidence to support it.  High school life is busy, there are always new stories involving other students, and most of the people will forget about the rumor, especially if it’s a pretty weak one anyway.  Many people will be smart enough to see through it as well.

The danger with confronting the person who started the rumor is that it can backfire and look like a messy breakup.  That’s also a way of being branded as a drama queen, and it’s less likely that another guy is going to date and take you seriously.

The same advice for ignoring a problem could have worked when Hannah discovered that she was placed on a “hot or not” list that Alex made in an attempt to get his ex-girlfriend, Jessica, jealous.  Those types of lists usually start popping up in middle school, and everybody knows that they are a complete joke.  It’s nothing more than gossip being spread by complete idiots.

In Hannah’s case, she could have easily worn some other type of clothing to disguise her body’s shape for a little while, just long enough for that list to be forgotten.  Just like the photograph, once a list like that starts spreading, there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  The easiest way to deal with it is to just ignore it, like the other 70-80% of the students will.  The list will be forgotten by most students within a couple of days, if not sooner.

Hannah’s stalker is a completely different story.

For starters, she doesn’t close her blinds when she has a feeling that somebody is watching her.  I understand that nobody wants to be a prisoner in their own home, but there are basic safety and security measures that need to take place when the time calls for it.  Closing her windows will give her the privacy that she needs inside of her bedroom.

The idea of setting a trap to catch the stalker is a dangerous but doable idea, but Hannah poorly plans for it.  She and Courtney drink alcohol (a MAJOR ERROR, especially when trying to confront somebody who might be very dangerous), and that bad decision leads to her and Courtney briefly making out in her bedroom.

However, when they spot the stalker (Tyler, the school’s photographer), they fail to contact the police.  Hannah could have filed a police report and had them investigate his behavior.  Tyler would have most likely panicked and destroyed all of his photographic evidence.  It’s very doubtful that he would dare try to spread the photo of Hannah and Courtney kissing.

Later in the series we see Hannah turn down Zach, and he gets his revenge by stealing “positive notes” destined for Hannah, making her think that nobody likes her.  When Hannah noticed that her notes were suddenly missing, and with no good reason for the pattern to stop, she should have started checking for notes during other parts of the day.  She could have even asked the teacher to keep an eye on it.

But she doesn’t.  Hannah simply assumes that people do not like her any more for no good reason.

At the end of the summer, Hannah attends a huge back-to-school party hosted at Jessica’s house.  Despite being underage, it’s an “adult” party with plenty of alcohol, one of the most dangerous substances encountered by teenagers.  While Hannah gets closer to Clay, a genuinely good person, she later pushes him away when she has bad flashbacks of her date with Justin, the person who started her downward spiral.  After Clay leaves the bedroom, Hannah witnesses a drunk and passed out Jessica get raped by Bryce, one of the top athletes in the school.  What makes matters worse is that Jessica’s boyfriend, Justin, allowed Bryce to sexually assault the woman.

Hannah was hiding in the room while the attack happened.  If she was careful, she could have used her cell phone to secretly video tape the attack and use it as evidence to push Justin and Jessica to go to the police.

When leaving the party, Hannah gets a ride from Sheri after Sheri proudly demonstrates that she’s allegedly not even close to being drunk.  Of course, Hannah could have called her parents and asked them for a ride, going so far as having them meet her down the street at a different address.  Her parents would have been upset with Hannah drinking alcohol, but that’s still better than driving drunk or riding with an intoxicated driver.  She could have also borrowed money and paid for a taxi ride as well.

Instead, Hannah rides with Sheri, and Sheri also convinces Hannah to spend the night at her place so that she won’t be intoxicated when returning home the next day.  Hannah’s phone needs to be charged.  When Sheri tries to look for a phone charger she gets distracted and accidentally hits a stop sign, knocking it to the ground.

Sheri is terrified about reporting the minor accident, and she refuses to call the police.  She drives away and it’s not long until a driver goes past the downed sign and crashes into another car, accidentally killing the driver, one of their classmates.

Instead of fleeing, Sheri could have called the police and anonymously reported the downed traffic sign at the intersection.  Sheri could have then left the scene (Yes, I know it’s a felony to flee the scene after an accident.  This is just a hypothetical scenario.  Do not break the law.), hidden her car, and then stayed there with Hannah and easily warn any approaching driver of the dangerous intersection until the police arrived.

But that did not happen, and because of Sheri fleeing the scene, one of their classmates was accidentally killed in a car crash.

As she’s suffering from a deeper depression, Hannah takes another chance at asking Clay for help.  As it was pointed out in yesterday’s article, Hannah takes the wrong approach with Clay, knowing full well that he’s still socially inexperienced and obviously missing her silent calls for help.  She could have sat down with him privately and sincerely told him about her problems and how she really feels about him.  Sometimes you have to change tactics and just be direct with people for them to truly see what’s bothering you.

Of course, Hannah could have also spoken with Tony and sought his help.  After all, she trusted Tony enough to help carry out her plan after her death.  Tony could have helped talk to Clay and let him know about the true problems, and that Hannah simply isn’t just being a “drama queen”.  But instead of taking a different approach to a known problem, Hannah takes Clay’s dismissal as his true feelings, and that crushes her.

A short while later, when her parents’ pharmacy business is having severe financial problems, Hannah offers to take their bank bag (full of cash) to the bank and deposit it.  She gets distracted when unlocking the car and makes a critical error of placing the bag on the car’s roof.  Hannah then drives away and the bag is lost.  That’s a prime example of how youth, inexperience and distractions can create a major problem.

Hannah does the right thing and tries to pay back her parents by using her college fund, but they refuse to take her money.  This hits her hard and her failure is a major blow.  At this point she begins convincing herself that she only creates problems for other people, and they would be better off without her.

It’s conceivable that Hannah could have asked her classmates for help raising the money that she lost, even offering to pay them back over time.  Make a list of who you owe money to, and work on paying them back the entire amount.  Yes, it would feel terrible asking for that kind of help, but that *is* an option for recovering from that problem.  It’s better than doing nothing and feeling sorry for yourself.

After losing the bank bag, Hannah goes out walking and ultimately finds her way to Bryce’s house, and he just happens to be throwing a party.  She gives in to social pressure and strips to her underwear and relaxes in the hot tub.  When the other people leave and Bryce climbs into the tub, she doesn’t leave.  Hannah knows full well that Bryce is a sexual predator, yet she makes no effort to leave.  Bryce takes advantage of the situation and rapes her.

When Hannah returns to school, she goes to the counselor for help.  She tells him about her attack, but she refuses to name who attacked her, only that it was a senior (she’s a junior).  Since Hannah does not want to name the guy, the counselor doesn’t offer any help.  He tells Hannah to simply ignore him as he’ll be graduating and leaving the school at the end of the year.  Even when she mentions wanting to kill herself, the counselor does not offer any help.

That’s the final straw, and Hannah kills herself that evening.

It’s almost like Hannah already had her mind made up ahead of time, and she was just collecting evidence so that her parents can sue the school after her death, win a lot of money, and save their pharmacy.

There’s so much more that Hannah could have done if she was really concerned about her problems.  She could have opened up to her parents.  She could have talked to other school administrators.  She could have talked to a trusted classmate such as Tony, and told him her story.  Hannah could have also gone to the police department and reported Bryce’s attack in the hot tub.

But she didn’t seek any other solutions, and because of her suicide, her parents had to endure a living nightmare.  They were put through more emotional pain than she could ever imagine.  Her death also took a heavy toll on Clay, a person who she thought didn’t care about her.  She had the wrong assumption because she took the wrong approach.

HOW TO SURVIVE IN HIGH SCHOOL

Hannah Baker’s experience in 13 Reasons Why can be an eye-opening experience for what it’s like to be on the receiving end of teasing, bullying and harassment.

So how can a teenager survive high school without committing suicide?

High school is a challenging environment where you can have highly-emotional young adults behaving like children.  It’s a place that you’re forced to attend for four years and deal with snotty administrators, pushy faculty members, and quite a few annoying classmates.  The numerous rules and regulations are often childish and stupid, and that alone can test your patience.

Some good news is that not everybody is bad.  In fact, most of the students are generally good people who are on time to class, complete their homework, study for tests, and stay out of major trouble.  It’s safe to say that at least 85% of the student body falls into this general category.  They may be incredibly lame these days, but they’re still good people.

The other 15% of the students are going to be the elitists, the jocks, the cheerleaders, and the delinquents.  Yes, cheerleaders.  Girls can be vicious towards each other, and those attitudes can be compounded when standing in the spotlight, such as being a cheerleader.

The other good news is that as long as you pass your tests and classes, then your time in jail, errrr, high school will only last for four years.  Time will pass by the fastest during your last two years as you take the SAT and/or ACT exam, study hard to boost your grades, visit colleges or tech schools, and make plans for life after high school.  You’ll also probably be working a part-time job after school and hanging out with friends on the weekends.  Believe me, those last two years pass by *very* quickly.

In fact, the time passes so quickly that most bullies don’t have time to deal with upperclassmen.  The juniors and seniors are also generally mature enough to know how to ignore and simply not deal with any bullies anyway.

So what can you do as a freshman and sophomore to avoid the wrath of bullies?

Tip #1 – Make friends and stay focused on your goals for after high school

One of the biggest helps is to have a solid goal in mind for what you want to do after high school, whether it’s going to college or a trade school, directly entering the work force, or doing something like joining the military.

With the goal in mind, it’s important to find classes and/or clubs as relevant to it as possible.  This will help you stay focused, and you’ll also be around like-minded people.  These are people that can easily become friends, and you can usually trust some of them as well.  Having a core group of friends like that will help make high school not just a tedious requirement, but a fun experience as well.

But it all starts with having a goal in mind.

For me, my goal after college was to be a pilot in the Air Force.  I took JROTC in high school and then Air Force ROTC in college.  In addition to that, I earned my private pilot’s license while still in high school.  Not only did I find some really awesome friends in JROTC (and we had some great “field trips” as well), but my hobby kept me going towards that ultimate goal.  Plus, how many students in high school have a pilot’s license of all things?  😉

Sadly, that ultimate career goal did not occur, but the thought of it kept me going on a positive track through high school.

Tip #2 – Ignore the teasing and insults, especially on social media.

One of the biggest reasons why bullies tease and pick on people is that they are looking for a reaction from you.  That upset reaction is what makes the bullies continue their action, especially if he’s doing so in front of his friends.  The bully loves being the center of attention at times, and he’ll gladly hurt your feelings to stay in the spotlight, especially if the insults are funny.

Negative reactions from you give the bullies power, and it only encourages them to continue with their ways.  What are you going to do?  Get so angry that you’ll fight right there, getting yourself and the bully suspended from school?  Yeah, right.  The bully knows that you most likely will not fight back, and that’s another reason why the teasing and picking will continue.  If the bully is also a delinquent, then a minor suspension for fighting isn’t going to hurt him academically.  It’s only going to bring you down to his level.  (HINT — Things can always be resolved outside of school.)

The two best options are, A) Ignoring and not responding, or B) Responding, but in a very nonchalant way.  The second option acknowledges the presence of the bully and the fact that you heard the insult, but that it also clearly does not bother you.  The bully can keep running his mouth all day and he’s still not going to get a negative reaction or anything else to respond to.  After all, you’ve got better things to do than waste your time on that asshole.

If you use either option, you must stick with that same choice for the duration of the bullying, even if it takes days and weeks.  Stay consistent and do NOT show any negative reaction.

A third option is to insult the bully, but that’s only for those people who are extremely good at making unique and funny insults.  Anything less will be seen as a weak response.  Just be cautioned that if the bully is truly insulted in front of his friends, he’ll most likely come looking for payback, and that might be physical violence like with shoving or a cheap shot when the teachers aren’t looking.  Be extremely careful if you choose to play this “game.”

If the bully resorts to using social media, the best option is to simply ignore it.  Keep your privacy settings so that only your true “friends” can post on your wall.  Do not get caught up reading what the bully might write.  It’s just a way that the person is seeking attention.

Tip #3 – Try to avoid the bully whenever possible.

This is quite simple and usually works well in a high school, especially a large building with numerous hallways and doors.

Try to spot the bully from a distance and then casually alter your path away from him.  DO NOT MAKE IT OBVIOUS.  If he sees that you’re turning around or suddenly veering away, then it’ll just alert the bully and he’ll use that perceived fear against you.  A worst case scenario would have the bully seeing you turn away and then SHOUTING at you from down the hallway, letting everybody know that you’re a coward.

Even a simple “HELLO, WHATEVERYOURNAME!” shouted down the hallway at you can have the desired effect from the bully.  It’s loud, it’s simple, it will not get the bully in trouble, and it’ll announce to the school that you are running away.  It’s so simple that it’s foolproof, and bullies will use that trick all day long.

Again, if you do keep your distance, do not make it obvious to the bully.  Stay discrete, get lost in the crowds, and slip away until you’re out of sight.

Tip #4 – Avoid dangerous situations.

Keep your eyes open and avoid potentially dangerous situations, even if it means backing away from peer pressure.

This is especially true when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

If you are a female and decide to drink and/or do drugs at a party or social gathering, it is very likely that guys will try to take advantage of you.  Drugs and alcohol lower your inhibitions, ease you from your normal state of mind, and can easily cause you to pass out.  This makes you an incredibly easy target for sexual predators, just like Bryce in 13 Reasons Why.

Don’t think that it’s just an over-hyped warning.  That is a very real problem for young ladies, and it’s been that way for a very long time.  Recognize the situation and remove yourself from it.  Your true friends will not try to pressure you into joining them.

Tip #5 – Be extremely cautious of *how* you are photographed.

This is another tip mainly with the ladies in mind.

In today’s age, it’s incredibly simple to take risque photos and send them to, say, a boyfriend.  But what happens if the other person decides to share those photos with others?  Just like that whatever private moment you were sharing is now on display for the world to see.  Or what if said boyfriend uses the photos as blackmail, making you perform certain activities under threat of him releasing the photos?

The sad truth is that you really cannot trust anybody to keep a secret like that.

Teenage relationships come and go at the drop of a hat.  One day two people are in love, and the next they’re already separated and seeing other people.  How are you supposed to trust a person to solely keep seductive photos and/or videos and then trust that person to destroy them when the relationship is finished?  That’s a huge reason why “revenge porn” is such a big issue today.  It’s just too easy to release said photos and videos to friends and post them on the Internet for everybody to view, shaming you for life.

The bottom line is that it’s rare to find such trust between two people, especially among teenagers.  By definition many teenage boys want to show off their girlfriends, and they can and will show risque photos and videos as well.

Too many bad options can easily happen when taking and sharing risque photos.  The best solution is to not allow any to be taken.  Do not put yourself in that situation.

Tip #6 – Seek out a role model for advice.

If you’re having problems with a bully, and your friends cannot help, then seek out a strong role model, such as a favorite teacher or even one of your or a friend’s parents.  If all else fails, even a good school administrator will do.

The important parts here are to be open-minded to suggestions, and to provide specific details if asked.  That is especially true if you decide to speak with an administrator.  Be ready to mention names, common times / locations, and specific examples of bullying.  Also make sure you have a listing of real problems, and not just one or two minor issues.  The bigger your listing of complaints, then the more likely that the administrator can help come up with an appropriate solution.

You can speak more generically when speaking to a parent or teacher, but if you go the administrator route, then be prepared to tell everything.  Otherwise, the reaction will be very similar to that of the school counselor at the end of season one of 13 Reasons Why.  Without names and specific information, then there’s little that the administrators can do to actually help you.

Tip #7 – F*ck it.

It’s not the end of the world if a bully is teasing and verbally abusing you.  Yes, it does suck and it can make the school day annoying, but if the bullying is only with words, then they’re only words.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

That’s really what it comes down to in those situations.  Words are just snippets or air flowing like diarrhea out of a bully’s mouth.  Most people will see through the bully and not believe the insults anyway.  If anything, you’ll probably receive recognition for being able to take all of the teasing and insulting, and not fighting back or showing emotion.

In the end though, f*ck it.  Who really cares what a bully says?  It’s not worth fighting back and getting suspended to take on a worthless bully of all people.  If your friends cannot see through the bully, then you need new friends.

Besides, chances are likely that the bully will lay off by the time you’re a junior or senior.  Just remember that after graduating, you will probably never see the bully again unless it’s a chance encounter.  You’ll get another chance to start over with new people when you go to college or a technical school.  You’ll then get yet another chance to start over when you begin working.  You may even relocate several times before finally settling down.

If it was me being verbally insulted, I’d make a game out of it.  I would have a small journal on hand and then write down the date and whatever insult is directed towards me.  I’d make a show of it and make sure to inform said bully of any insults that may have been repeated.  It shows that you’re not bothered by the insults, you’re having fun because of it, and that you’re not threatened in any way.  Plus, if you really had to, the journal would make a great piece of evidence if you ever had to go to a school administrator or seek legal help.

Again, f*ck it.  Don’t show any fear.  Just tough it out and you won’t have to deal with that problem in the near future.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah Baker had some unfortunate events, but she also showed really poor judgment at times as well.  Her worst decision was to end her own life, especially since she was not even close to being out of options.  In fact, she still had a bright future ahead of her.

But she threw it all away, cut her wrists, and caused nightmarish horror and sadness on her parents and few friends in school.  Had she pursued other options and thought more clearly, then the series would have had a much different ending.  Hannah’s story is not only one of harassment and abuse, but also one of how teenage suicide is certainly NOT the answer.

Believe it or not, but there is life after high school.  You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to get away from local problems, to start over in fresh settings, and have a chance to live a happy and meaningful life.

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