I’ve just finished watching Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why yesterday (read my blog post on the book), and I’ve seen posts (like Fox News, USAToday, etc.) going around warning people about watching this show and how it glorifies suicide, especially since the show depicted Hannah’s suicide in real time.
I am not a mental health or other professional who deals with suicide and suicide prevention, but I want to share why I disagree with these posts as a teen librarian and a reader.
First, I don’t think this show OR the book argue for suicide as a choice. Obviously, 13 Reasons Why stands for Hannah’s 13 reasons why she chose to go through with her act of suicide. As the audience hears these reasons, told by Hannah, about her peers and the things they’ve done to hurt her and watches them play out in the past and in the present day, the real focus is how a series of events can affect a person to be pushed so far into depression, isolation, and a desperate desire to find any way to stop the pain. This person can easily feel like they have no self-worth through this process and that the only way out–to make it stop–is to stop living.
“Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds in the US…As an adolescent, [teens] are a part of a particularly vulnerable group that can encounter pressure from [their] family and peer groups. Some problems [they] may face include family breakdown, sexuality, body imagery (anorexia, bulimia, obesity), and social, school, and peer pressures. These problems could lead to a state of depression, which is the most common cause of suicide” (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”).
Instead of arguing that this is a validated way out, the lessons drawn from the show are really how having a friend, someone to talk to who really cares and listens, can make a difference in the life of a person who is thinking about suicide.
“When people talk about suicide, listen, as it can be a cry for help” (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”).
The show also reflects the reverberations of suicide on other people around them (called “survivors”) through Alex’s choice to shoot himself, which illustrates that a person thinking about suicide and their choice DOES affect more than themselves, sometimes causing a chain effect of other suicides or attempted suicides.
Suicide prevention training tells you to notice the people around you, if someone has changed a physical appearance drastically or given away their possessions or withdrawn from things. If they mention suicide or have a fascination with death. How your interest can really make a difference in this person’s decision to act.
The show encourages teens to recognize the effects their behaviors and words can have on others and take responsibility for those actions. Sure, Hannah made the decision and act of suicide, but each of her Reasons gave her pain and so much that she finally felt she couldn’t live with it. You never know how someone else is feeling and how something you did negatively can affect them. It’s better to have a positive impact than leave a possibility of hurt.
Also, I want to state here that the point is not that teens being kind or friendly can save someone who is having suicidal thoughts. It’s that noticing someone having suicidal thoughts and taking the step to get them help that can save them. I don’t think this help always has to come from a mental health professional for teens, especially, because “every 100 minutes” a teen is thinking about acts of suicide (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”). However, the more powerful, meaningful, and impactful connections a teen has to, say, parents, friends, and other positive associations who are willing to listen to the teen’s feelings and be there for them can make a difference in that teen’s decisions on whether to attempt suicide or find suicide as an option. It’s not simply being kind. Teens already might have a distrust of other adults or people whom they are not familiar with saying they can help them. It is that much more important to have someone a teen trusts to be there for them and listen enough to maybe stay with them while they do seek the professional help they might need.
Finally, the show adds a must-watch final statement after the finale called “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons” that goes in-depth about the show, their efforts, and has mental health professionals talking about suicide and how the viewer can help others who might be in this situation and gives resources if they themselves feel this way.
Don’t just judge this book and series off posts intending to incite anger or censor viewership. Take the chance to learn about empathy and what teens or other people might be experiencing that you might never see. See their world through their eyes and make it better and hopefully recognize these signs in others. (However, if you are a survivor of suicide or have been assaulted or have ever self-harmed or might experience trauma from the graphic scenes, please do use your own judgment whether to watch or not!)
For more information on suicide and suicide prevention, see these resources:
American Psychological Association’s “7 Essential Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teen Suicide“
“Suicide.” Teen Health and Wellness, Rosen Publishing, October 2016, www.teenhealthandwellness.com/article/316/suicide. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.