Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading about the criticism of the Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’. The series about a teenage girl Hannah Baker’s audio recordings that were left behind after her suicide listened to by her classmate Clay Jensen. Each tape depicts the adverse events (e.g. rape, sexual assault, etc.) that occurred for Hannah that ended in her tragic demise. As a Clinical Psychologist, I have had patients sit in my office telling me that the series has triggered traumatic events for them and for some, it even reminded them when they were suicidal.
I asked myself several times:
Do I want to watch it?
Will I watch it?
The answer is simply Mand NO
Why not? Because as a parent I cannot even imagine what it would feel like to have a child commit suicide. The extreme pain and suffering underlying the reason will never be known. But what I do know is that according to a report by the youth mental health service Orygen, “Suicide rates among young Australians are at their highest level in 10 years, despite a range of prevention strategies and investment from government………the system is not working and a new suicide prevention strategy for young people is needed” (ABC News November 2016).
Incidentally, since the debut of the show in Australia calls to mental health helplines have significantly increased. And now school systems across Australia as well as other countries, have issued formal warnings to parents concerning the inappropriateness of the series for younger audiences.
Some of the criticism for the series ’13 Reasons Why’ has included suicide being glorified, its failure to depict mental illness, which is in most cases a primary factor in suicide, and its depictions of sexual assault and rape which may be considered as gratuitous to some.
Peter Shmigel, the chief executive of Lifeline Australia, has expressed concern that the show crossed a line in its detailed depiction of means as it ran the risk of justifying suicide as a “legitimate choice”. Kristen Douglas, a national manager at youth mental health foundation known as Headspace, has stated that the framing device of Hannah’s “reasons” is unrealistic and harmful. She also said that the series “exposes viewers to risky suicide content”.
On the other hand, the shows writer Nik Sheff has stated in an interview with Vanity Fair “Facing these issues head-on—talking about them, being open about them—will always be our best defence against losing another life. I’m proud to be a part of a television series that is forcing us to have these conversations because silence really does equal death.”
Given that this is currently one of the most talked about shows, is it time for suicide prevention to be part of the school curriculum?
Does our education system need to include mental health as a compulsory subject?
Is it time that we start providing skills to youth as part of the curriculum on dealing with issues impacting on mood?
And is it time that those that are abusive verbally and physically and bully are forced to undergo counselling to address their own problems?
While the series has given us ‘13 Reasons Why’ I am going to give you, my 13 Reasons Why NOT.
1. Your family loves you
You are the one thing that matters the most to your parents, even if sometimes you think they might not show it. Can you ever bring yourself to imagine the amount of tragedy and grief you would be inflicting upon them by ending your existence? Talk to them they want to help.
2. Think of all the close friends
We all have a bunch of close friends. Being overwhelmed by some incident, you might decide on ending your life. And if you do it, these people would be left behind. The scar of your death in their hearts would also be left behind, traumatising them for the rest of their lives. Are you up for inflicting such pain to them?
3. You are not alone
Don’t think that you have tried everything. Ask for professional help. Suicides only stops things from getting better.
4. You are not a burden
If you commit suicide, only you would have known what made you do it. The truth would die with you. People think that someone who suicides is selfish, don’t let them believe that. Show yourself that you can overcome this by believing in yourself. Remember you wouldn’t think someone is a burden on you, so you are not a burden on them. There are lots of people who want to help.
5. Letting go of all future prospects
Ending life in the middle is the worst idea possible. You judge the worth and value of your life by the incidents that have happened so far. If you don’t give up, you would get to experience all the colours that life has in store for you.
6. All your aspirations would be abandoned
Everyone fosters some dream or inspiration which changes over the course of time. In the face of constant tragedy and trouble crossing our way, we have the tendency to forget about those aspirations. Those aspirations don’t deserve a death; they are meant to soar high in the sky.
7. You can help
It is hard to come out on the other side of a mental health crisis. No one is exempt from the issues of mental health. By knowing that you have come through, others can take comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone.
8. You are not alone
Whether you are suicidal or you have Bipolar Disorder, there are billions of people who know because they have been there too. So they can understand your struggles. You are not alone. If they are not giving up, you shouldn’t either.
9. The world is better because you are in it
Whether you write blogs, articles or you are there for somebody you know personally; you have the ability to help others feel less alone. Every time you make someone laugh, you are making their life better. The world is better because you are in it.
10. You are on somebody’s top 10
Whether it’s because you share a unique friendship with someone, or because you make them feel special, someone out there has you on their top 10 list(s). You are making their life better in some way. Just because somebody hasn’t told you, doesn’t mean you aren’t on their top 10.
11. You deserve to live
There may come a time in your life when you may think that you don’t deserve to live. Hallucinations, anxiety, depression, they all lie. You are worth every second of your life.
12. There is more to learn
Learning is the greatest thing about our life. Whether you are watching television, taking classes, reading books, or simply talking to someone; you are learning something every minute of every day. You will never be done becoming better.
13. You have your own reasons
Your friendship, your loves, your passions, – they are yours, and nobody else’s. You have reasons somewhere inside you that tell you to keep living. Nothing negates those reasons and nothing is worth giving them up.
This list of reasons is not complete and not perfect. But if you think about these reasons, you would understand that suicide is not an option. It never was.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Headspace on 1800 650 890
Suicide Callback – 13 00 659 467
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800