You’ve probably heard of the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and perhaps you’re wondering what all the controversy is about. The popular show is an adaptation of Jay Asher’s book, centering around the suicide of a teenage girl and the reasons why it happened. It creates a platform for conversations about suicide, depression, bullying, sexual relationships, friendships, sexual abuse, harassment, rumors, drinking and the impact of social media - quite a handful to fit into hour long episodes.
Although the show appears to have good intentions, schools across America (including in Utah) have been issuing warnings to parents and students about the potential impact 13RW may have on vulnerable youth.
Why is the show so popular?
While you may not understand why the show how become so popular, I think it’s important to understand the show from the perspective of a teenager. It’s relatable for those who don’t feel heard or understood - which makes it extremely attractive.
It is ultimately up to parents to decide whether their children should watch 13RW. However, I would encourage parents to view the show with their children to facilitate open dialogue. While watching, don’t be distracted by the “Hollywoodizing” and pay close attention to the core message. Suicide is not a game, it is not glamorous, and it isn’t anyone’s fault. It is sudden and ultimate, caused by significant trauma. A person’s suicide is not the responsibility of a bully, a counselor, or an ex-boyfriend. HOWEVER, it is the responsibility of all of us to take suicide seriously and it is our responsibility to build each other up rather than break each other down.
So, what can you do if you relate to the characters in the show?
It may feel like you’re alone, that no one understands what you’re feeling but know that there are people out there ready to help you. It may feel scary or uncomfortable to confide in someone but it can also be a relief to let all those powerful emotions and thoughts flow out (or explode, and that’s okay too!). If you’d prefer not to speak to your parents or friends, look for a third party like a therapist or school counselor.
• There are people who want to and can help
• Seek out someone you trust with your thoughts and feelings
o Parent, friend, sibling
o School counselor, teachers
o Therapist (Google “therapists in your area”)
And, what can you do as a parent or friend if you think someone may be depressed, lonely or having suicidal thoughts?
Most importantly, know that talking about depression or suicide will not provoke someone to harm or kill themselves. If you think someone is depressed or having suicidal thoughts, ASK them, TALK to them and LISTEN. Avoiding the subject may seem like you’re being sensitive to their emotions but it will add to the person’s feeling of not being heard or that no one cares. In addition, people don’t always ask for help directly, be aware of subtle hints and sarcasm used to cover up deeper emotions.
• Be aware of indirect calls for help
• Don’t avoid the “elephant in the room”
• Ask questions i.e. have you thought about hurting yourself?
• Take time to have open, non-judgmental conversations
• Demonstrate that you hear what they’re saying and are supportive
• You may not be able to understand but you can show empathy
How can I help my community?
As many in our communities are now seeing this trending topic, I would encourage you to use this opportunity to start a conversation. We need to have conversations, social interactions and open communication with our children. And, we need to be doing the same with people from diverse backgrounds, beliefs and ages. That is one thing that 13RW has at least raised awareness of.
It is also our responsibility to listen rather than just assume, and I mean really listen. The characters in 13RW demonstrate that everyone has their own story and this is usually split into what we showcase on the outside and what we hold close on the inside. People may put on a happy face and will probably answer “I’m fine” to “How’s it going?”. We don’t truly know what’s going unless we take time to listen, without any judgment or presuppositions.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, these services can help:
13 Reasons Why help page: http://13reasonswhy.info/#usa
National Suicide Prevention Online Chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Utah CrisisLine: 1-801-587-3000
Utah "Safe UT" app information: https://healthcare.utah.edu/uni/clinical-services/safe-ut/