The popularity of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why provides an opportunity for the discussion of suicide. What will follow is a series of Blog Episodes that will enable people viewing the show to address some its messages, learn about the topic of suicide as well as what we can do to promote suicide safety in our own communities.
Looking at the posts it seems that the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why created an emotional resonance with many of you on a variety of levels. I suppose that resonance means the intent of the author and the producers of the series were successful. After all is it not the goal of those who write and produce fiction to stir our emotions? Emotionally they were successful, but death by suicide is not a fiction. It is a stark reality surrounded by myth and taboo. Should we be upset? Yes. But to condemn it serves no purpose and lends credence to its mistaken assumptions. The series is out there and is quite popular. It has happened and can not be undone.
It has happened and can not be undone – just like a death by suicide. What does that say to us as a community dedicated to the field of suicide intervention? We can rant and rave about it. We can be upset by the feelings we might have cached inside ourselves that have now been scraped raw by the series. Or we can stand proud and assume the role of healers and educators. The series has moved our actions from intervention to postvention. It has happened and can’t be undone – but we can use it to build resilience among ourselves and our communities.
First of all some general thoughts about 13 Reasons Why (13RW) borrowed from SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education – https://www.save.org/). While these thoughts are specific to youth who may watch the series and are intended to be talking points for educators I think they are applicable to all. Following that I will talk about postvention and how we can learn from 13RW to become better equipped to help those at risk of suicide.
1. 13RW is a fictional story based on a widely known novel and is meant to be a cautionary tale. Cautionary tales are intended to create awareness of moral issues or warn of danger and, as such, promote conformity or safety. Sometimes they end with a moral, while other times the message embedded in the story – this is the case with 13RW. Cautionary tales do this by introducing a taboo or prohibition is stated – some act, location, or thing is said to be dangerous. Then, the story is told where someone breaks the conformity either by circumstance or personal volition. Eventually the individual either narrowly escapes the worst consequences or comes to an unpleasant end.
The message of 13RW? I suppose that is dependent on the individual, their experiences and their memories as the media is full of divergent interpretations. Looking for a simple message I think the moral issue is we need to treat each other better, and we need to be more considerate because we don’t know what another person may be going through. Breaking that moral convention can lead to dire results that can include death. I think that is the cautionary tale 13RW attempts to tell.
2. You may have similar experiences and thoughts as some of the characters in 13RW. People often identify with characters they see on TV or in movies. However, it is important to remember that there are healthy ways to cope with the topics covered in 13RW and acting on suicidal thoughts is not one of them. The fact that there are more adaptive ways of dealing with life’s difficulties than suicide can be lost when we feel we have not been treated well and the people are inconsiderate of us and our situation. The circumstances overwhelm us and, in doing so, blind us to “healthy ways” of coping. However, merely saying, “There are better ways to deal with this” can sound dismissive. Listening to the person can help them to eventually come to the conclusion that there are other ways of confronting helpful situations. This applies to those who are caregivers as well as those who are “simply” friends.
3. If you have watched the show and feel like you need support or someone to talk to – reach out. Talk with a friend, family member, a counselor, or therapist. There is always someone who will listen. Again something easier said than done. The stigma and taboo surrounding many of the moral issues in 13RW can be compounded by those around the person who are dismissive of the person’s situation. Hence the reason to be both considerate and aware of what another may be going through.
4. Suicide is not a common response to life’s challenges or adversity. The vast majority of people who experience bullying, the death of a friend, or any other adversity described in 13RW do not die by suicide. In fact, most reach out, talk to others and seek help or find other productive ways of coping. They go on to lead healthy, normal lives. This is another reality that is important to understand but is generally lost on the person at risk. It is estimated that, at any given time, 5% of the US population (the percentages are similar in most other nations) have thoughts that places them at risk of suicide. While the number of deaths and attempts are tragic the larger number illustrates the validity of the point made by SAVE. This speaks to the desire to survive and thrive as well as the resiliency we all possess as individuals. It is when the moral convention addressed in 13RW is violated the risk of harm or death from suicide can become a reality.
*You Are Not Alone. If you are thinking thoughts about suicide please contact: