Continuing with thoughts about 13 Reasons Why I will continue with more of SAVE’s talking points.
5. Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act. Hannah’s suicide (although fictional) is a cautionary tale, not meant to appear heroic and should be viewed as a tragedy. If you remember my comments in the first talking point the moral issue in the cautionary tale that 13RW is the need to treat each other better the need to be more considerate because we don’t know what another person may be going through. Hannah’s death is tragic in that it could have possibly been averted had the moral issue been observed. Additionally, the effect of Hannah’s death on the others in the series is also tragic – something we will address in a subsequent posting. However suicide is neither heroic nor romantic despite what we may believe as a result of Romeo and Juliette. Suicide is basically an inappropriate coping mechanism one turns to when the pain from a situation becomes intolerable and the person feels ignored and unable to make things better. If the moral message of 13RW was followed the outcome would most likely be different. The goal of these postings is to demonstrate how the tragedy may have been averted – think in terms of an alternative ending.
6. It is important to know that, in spite of the portrayal of a serious treatment failure in 13RW, there are many treatment options for life challenges, distress and mental illness. Treatment works. The guidance counselor in 13RW responds to Hannah’s thoughts of suicide is not appropriate and not typical of most counselors. School counselors are professionals and a trustworthy source for help. If your experience with a school counselor is unhelpful, seek other sources of support such as a crisis line. Yes, treatment works! Yes, intervention works! And treatment and intervention work for all – adolescents, adults and seniors included. Is every treatment and intervention process enjoined successful? As a rule – Yes. But there are times when things do not go perfectly. The important message to take from this point is the “failure” in 13RW is the failure of the person Hannah went to. The failure was not Hannah’s. Yes, treatment works but like many things we experience in life it can take several tries to get things to work out. This is difficult for the Hannah’s in our world. I think with this talking point each person who has gotten this far needs to think about how we can help the Hannah’s understand that old “try, try again – I AM WORTH IT!” mantra. Yes, trying again is frustrating but how can we as people come to recognize we are worth the effort? How can we send the message, the talking point, to people at risk in a manner that is not dismissive but empowering? Think about it. Think about the times you were frustrated in looking for help. Think about how you managed to transcend the negative and find the help and skills to move past the “bad” moment.
7. Suicide affects everyone and everyone can do something to help if they see or hear warning signs that someone is at risk of suicide. This is probably the most important message to be gleaned from 13RW. Suicide intervention is a job for all of us! Every single one of us! We assume suicide prevention is the job of trained professionals. That assumption is wrong, wrong, WRONG! Very few of the volunteers at IMAlive.org are professional social workers or counselors. But each of them took the time to learn how to help those at risk – the Hannah’s in our world. IMAlive volunteers are from 5 continents representing the total rainbow of “regular” folks. People just like you. The only difference is they learned to be aware of the sometimes unobvious cues that a person is at risk. They are the First Responders to those at risk who enable the person to stay safe long enough to get the longer term assistance that may be needed. If a person has a heart attack they do not need a heart surgeon to stabilize them. They need someone who can provide CPR until they can get to the heart surgeon in the hospital. Everyone should, and can, learn the warning signs of suicide risk and how to help the person get to the help they need. All it takes is listening and a willingness to see past the stigma and taboo surrounding suicide. This leads to another of SAVE’s talking points – Knowing how to acknowledge and respond to someone who shares their thoughts of emotional distress or suicide with you is important. Don’t judge them or their thoughts. Listen. Be caring and kind. Offer to stay with them. Offer to go with them to get help or to contact a crisis line.
8. Talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is ok. It will not make someone more suicidal or put the idea of suicide in their mind. If you are concerned about someone, ask them about it. This point can not be stressed enough. If you think there is the remotest chance a person is thinking about suicide ASK! When you ask don’t sugarcoat it! Ask in a direct manner, “Are you thinking about suicide?” This tells the person that you have gotten their message of risk and that you are not afraid to help them. Suicide is not contagious. Asking by using the word will not make the person who is not at risk suicidal. Rather it will let them know that should they ever have thoughts of suicide you can be a valuable resource to turn to.
9. While not everyone will know what to say or have a helpful reaction, there are people who do, so keep trying to find someone who will help you. If someone tells you they are suicidal, take them seriously and get help. This is an important message for the person at risk and speaks to talking point #6. Not every helper is a perfect fit for every person. There are times when the connection between two people is not comfortable or does not happen at all. This does not mean there is no one to help. It just means that there may be a person better suited to help. The search for that “right” person is not always easy. But not easy does not mean impossible. Think in terms of relationships in general. We meet and make friends with many folks in life. However, when we decide to settle down with some special person – well that process takes time but the rewards are worth the hassle of looking. The metaphor is not perfect but I think we can see the point which is – Take the time and endure the hassle to find someone to help because the reward of life is worth it!
10. When you die you do not get to make a movie or talk to people any more. Leaving messages from beyond the grave is a dramatization produced in Hollywood and is not possible in real life. Yeah. I should be in movies – eat your heart out George Clooney! But it ain’t happening. We need to remember even Oscar winning flicks are just fictional constructs or someone’s interpretation of actual events. However, the person at risk may not have that grasp of reality we have. The talking point is a valid one but may not be easily understood by the person at risk. Is it possible that we may want to think in terms of the sequel – I’m Still Alive and I’m Damn Proud Of It! While we may think providing a disclaimer about triggers and such will create a margin of safety for those at risk they do not. To paraphrase the warning in passenger side mirrors “Harm or Death May Be Closer Than They Appear.”
11. Memorializing someone who died by suicide is not a recommended practice. Decorating someone’s locker who died by suicide and/or taking selfies in front of such a memorial is not appropriate and does not honor the life of the person who died by suicide. An upcoming episode will address this talking point. Suffice it to say that, just like a movie, the practice can glorify the act of suicide in the eyes of those at risk.
12. Hannah’s tapes blame others for her suicide. Suicide is never the fault of survivors or suicide loss. There are resources and support groups for suicide loss survivors. This point, while very valid, is another one of those things that is easier said than done. Exposure to suicide is a factor in assessing suicide risk. To borrow from Kay Redfield Jamison’s, Night Falls Fast, “Suicide is a death like no other… and those who are left behind to struggle with it must confront a pain like no other.” I imagine people’s feelings regarding the survivors of Hannah’s death run through a spectrum of emotions. The important consideration, as it relates to this discussion, is the exposure represents a risk factor for them and as such we must talk into account how we provide for their safety. Additionally, in a manner of speaking, there may be those who viewed 13RW who were affected by the series. It is my contention we need to consider them survivors. However, these folks are not fictional survivors. They are real people and should be the focus of any pragmatic discussion of 13RW.
I think this is enough for today. In tomorrow’s “episode” we will begin to look at postvention as it relates to 13RW. Some of the issues we will look at are Suicide Contagion, Safe Messaging and some ideas regarding what a community response to Hannah’s death might look like.
*You Are Not Alone. If you are thinking thoughts about suicide please contact: