Have you seen the recent series called 13 Reasons Why? It came out on Netflix last month and I was obsessed watching it over spring break. Not sure it was a good idea because for someone who already struggles with depression, it made me think more about suicide. Do you think that suicide is a common response to life’s challenges?
Wish I Wouldn’t Have Watched
I am halfway through the series myself, and so far have big concerns about the show. For those of you who have been living under a rock or did not read The Lorian article from last week, the series is based on a well-known novel that came out in 2007 by Jay Asher. The show follows a high student, Clay Jensen, in his quest to understand and uncover the story behind his classmate, Hannah Baker, and her decision to end her life. After the teenage girl’s suicide, Clay receives a series of cassette tapes in which Hannah blames others for her death. The story is meant to be a cautionary tale but is turning out to be much, much more.
First of all, it is not surprising that you might think more about suicide after watching a show like this. It is unsettling and graphic. The show has been difficult for many to watch, but (spoiler alert) those who have been victims of sexual assault, bullying or who struggle with a mental illness are specifically at risk. You may have similar experiences and thoughts as some of the characters in the show which is typical of television and movies. We often identify with actors on the big screen. That is often the reason movies and shows are enjoyment for us. We can empathize, feel validated or less alone. What is harmful in this series, however, is that it does not address much about the healthy ways that people can cope with hardships or traumatic events.
Acting on suicidal thoughts is not a common solution to dealing with difficulties. I am not saying that thoughts about not wanting to live aren’t often a part of trauma but following through with those thoughts, even though one suicide is too many, is less common of a solution than seeking help or finding other ways to move forward. There are many treatment options for life challenges, distress and mental illness. And speaking of mental illness, the show does not address mental illness much but focuses more on bullying and emotional distress. Most successful suicides (there is no good way to put it) are by people who have a mental illness. If you or someone you know is being bullied or hurt in some way, it is important to know that help is available. While not everyone will know what to do or say if someone has thoughts of suicide, it is important to talk to someone and if you are that someone, take it seriously.
Counseling is one resource available if life is creating so much stress that you feel life you cannot live another day. Unfortunately, the guidance counselor in the series does not respond to Hannah’s trauma or thoughts of suicide in an appropriate way. This is not typical of counselors, as most are professional and are trustworthy and helpful. It is important to know that talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and thoughts of suicide is okay. It is also no one person’s fault if someone takes their own life. Suicide is never the fault of survivors of suicide loss.
Lastly, “13 Reasons Why” does raise awareness about a problem in our society but it can be very triggering. If you choose to watch the show, do so with others with whom you can process it with openly. It is heavy material. For more information on things to consider when watching the series or if you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, please contact the Loras College Counseling or Health Center or your local hospital. Or call #1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you need 13 reasons why you should live, we will most certainly help you determine them.
For more information and for resources supporting this article see www.save.org/www.jedfoundation.org