There aren’t too many shows that create a controversy and have the entire world talking, but recently there has been one that has created quite an uproar, with some viewing the show as a learning experience, and others viewing it as inappropriate for certain audiences. Netflix has created much thought after the debut of “13 Reasons Why,” a show that addresses a very serious issue in the youth of our society: teenage suicide. For those of you who have not seen it, the show follows Clay Jensen, a teenage boy who received thirteen tapes from Hannah Baker, the girl who committed suicide in his school. Hannah addressed thirteen different tapes to thirteen people, explaining to each of them why they contributed to her suicide. Each person received the tapes, in a modified game of telephone, and were asked to pass it to the next person. The tapes are very personal to each person that listens to them, and all those involved heard the story of each person. Before reading this article keep in mind that I may spoil some of the events for you, so if you are interested in the show watch it before you read this.
There are thirteen questions that should be answered to understand “13 Reasons Why.”
How can we understand suicide, and why does anyone commit suicide?
Suicide is the second leading cause of death of young people between the ages of 15-24, and is a very serious issue in our society. Can we really understand suicide? Can we really know why a person commits suicide? Is it because they are depressed? Is it because they are bullied? Is it because their parents do not pay attention to them? Is it because they have no friends? Is it because their significant other broke up with them? Is it because they’re doing bad in school? In reality, the only person who knows why they committed suicide is the individual who made the choice. The hardest part about suicide is not knowing and understanding why that person would do it. In “13 Reasons Why,” Hannah’s parents are on the path to figure out why their daughter committed suicide. This television series tries to answer all the questions I listed above, the most widely asked question everyone asks after a suicide: Why?
Does Depression always lead to suicide?
Depression affects many individuals, and it is one of the risk factors that could lead someone to attempting suicide. Studies indicate that 1 in 4 adolescents experience depression in their lives. One way to avoid an escalation of depression into a suicide attempt is by knowing the warning signs of depression. Some warning signs include:
Loss of pleasure in all activities
Feelings of fatigue or lack of energy
Difficulty with memory
Change in sleep pattern, either too much or not enough
Increase or decrease in appetite
Feelings of worthlessness, self-blame, exaggerated feelings of guilt
Unrealistic ideas of worry
Hopelessness about the future
Is anyone to blame when someone commits suicide?
Although interactions, especially negative interactions like bullying can be a risk factor for suicidal thoughts or attempts, suicide is an individual decision. When a person attempts suicide, it is likely that there are a number of different factors that affect their decision to attempt it. After the suicide, there may be a lot of blame placed on people in their life, this includes self-blame and guilt on individuals close to the victim. I am in no way shaming any person who has committed suicide, but at the end of the day, they are the one who made the conscious decision to end their life. Can there ever be anyone to blame when someone commits suicide? Can you blame yourself if you saw the warning signs and did nothing? Can you blame yourself if you insulted them or did something to them?
Can suicide be prevented, and if so, how can it be prevented?
The best way to prevent suicide is by knowing the warning signs and doing something about it. If you are having suicidal thoughts or know of someone who is having suicidal thoughts, go and seek help. It is always better to seek help when an individual is not suicidal than to regret not telling anyone after a person commits suicide. Some may believe that an individual with suicide ideation cannot be saved, but there are many therapeutic techniques that can help them with their suicidal thoughts. But keep in mind, it should be a trained mental health professional that helps an individual with thoughts of suicide.
What are the warning signs of suicide?
Every individual is different, and they may show different warning signs, but there are some specific signs that people should watch out for. Warning signs include:
Talking about wanting to die to kill oneself
Looking for a way to kill oneself
Talking about being hopeless or having no purpose
Talking about being trapped or being in unbearable pain
Talking about being a burden to others
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
Acting agitated, anxious, or reckless
Sleeping too little or too much
Withdrawing or feeling isolated
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
Displaying extreme mood swings
An important thing to keep in mind is that every individual is different, and they respond differently to certain situations. If you see someone acting unlike himself, or see them participating in negative activities they normally do not participate in, this could be a warning sign. It all depends on the individual and who they are.
Does bullying lead to suicide/suicidal thoughts?
Bullying is a very serious issue that occurs within our schools, and even goes on after school in social media sites. Today it is easier to attack someone via the internet using social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, among others, and through mobile devices using text messages or pictures. It does not stop when a teenager gets home, instead it could get progressively worse. Imagine being bullied at school, and then coming home to same bullying when you open your computer and see those words. Although bullying is a serious issue, there is no evidence that bullying actually leads to suicidal ideation and suicide. However, it does increase the risk of having either thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
Who can you talk to about suicide?
Even though talking about suicide can be a difficult topic, all of us can be informed and talk about it. Talking about suicide can lead to a lot of positive effects, and could help someone who is suicidal seek help, and could also prevent suicide. If you see signs from a friend that they may be suicidal, it is okay to ask them if they have had suicidal thoughts. If they say they have thought about it, you can take initiative and seek out an adult figure to tell them. You can encourage them to seek out a school counselor, a teacher, an administrator, their parents, or any other adult they trust. You can even go with them to seek that help in order to help them through the process. If you are having suicidal thoughts, there are many resources you can turn to that will help. If you are having thoughts of suicide, or you know someone who is having thoughts of suicide, there are a number of suicide hotlines you can call. Trained professionals can help you figure out what you need to do, and the next steps you can take.
Is someone who self-harms more likely to commit suicide?
Self-harm is a coping mechanism for individuals who are overwhelmed with negative emotions. If people feel numb, for any reason, self-harm provides a way for them to feel something “real.” Individuals sometimes use self-harm as a form of punishment for any guilt or shame they may feel. Self-harm can become addicting, and individuals may use it as an unhealthy way to cope. When someone self-harms, they release endorphins, or pain-killing hormones, which can elevate mood for the moment, making the individual feel better at that time. Sometimes self-harm is a cry for help, but it is mostly used privately to release negative emotions and people will usually try to hide it from others, especially those close to them. People who self-harm do not usually intend to attempt suicide, but it is a possible contributing factor, and those who self-harm are at a higher risk of a suicide attempt. There are times when an individual may cause more harm to themselves than they intended, resulting in hospitalization or even death. Also, an individual may not feel that they have control during self-harm, which could lead to suicide attempt.
What are the contributing factors to suicide?
There are a number of contributing factors that lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts. A short way to describe it is that there are both genetic and environmental components, including genetic and temperamental makeup, as well as different life experiences. Some factors include the experience of trauma and/or neglect, family discord, having a family history of suicide, use and abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, impulsiveness, low self-esteem, experiencing bullying, a feeling of hopelessness, and perfectionism. Some of the major issues that are related to teenage suicide are major depressive episode, anxiety disorder, substance abuse. Adolescence is a trying time during an individual’s life, and although these are some of the common factors, there may be others depending on the individual.
What is the role of the counselor?
Counselors are trained to help individuals with any of their mental health issues, and this is especially true of individuals who are suicidal. Anyone who has thoughts of suicide, or who knows of anyone who has thoughts of suicide can seek out a counselor to talk about it. One of the best resources for high school and college students is their school counselor, who can provide a number of different services for the student. In “13 Reasons Why,” the last tape shows the school counselor interacting with Hannah, in her last attempt to save her life, she even stated that she was going to “give life one last try.” When speaking with the school counselor, Hannah displayed very obvious warning signs of someone who may attempt suicide. She says things like “lost” “sort of empty” “I don’t feel anything” “I don’t care anymore.” She mentions that she doesn’t care about anything, school, herself, people, her parents. She also talks about her parents in the sense that she thinks they want her to be “not a problem.” Throughout the session, the Mr. Porter’s phone keeps ringing, and he keeps checking it to see who it is and turn it off; it was not until the third ring that he put it away in desk. The counselor goes on to ask about her friends, and Hannah says “What friends?” At one point, when Mr. Porter says something, Hannah says “It doesn’t even matter what you say.” At another point, Mr. Porter says “It sounds like you need something that you’re not getting,” to which Hannah replies “I need it to stop.” And when Mr. Porter asks “You need what to stop?” Hannah replies with, “I need everything to stop, people, life.” There was some other conversation about some of the things that happened to Hannah, but I want to focus on the last part. Hannah tells Mr. Porter about the incident when she was raped, but before going into, Mr. Porter asks, “Did you do anything that night that you regret?” He then goes on to say, “Maybe you made a decision, a decision to do something with a boy that now you regret.” In the middle of this statement, Hannah is trying to tell him that is not what happened, but he would not let her speak. Then Mr. Porter asked whether he (the boy that raped her) forced himself on her and Hannah replies that she is not sure. Promptly Mr. Porter asks if she asked him to stop or if she said no, and she replied with no. He then said, “maybe you consented and then changed your mind,” and Hannah said no. You could tell that Hannah was dissatisfied with the visit because Mr. Porter was victim blaming, and did not take her accusation seriously. Mr. Porter basically told Hannah to just move on, and at this point Hannah walked out. Hannah waited and hoped that Mr. Porter would come after her, but after a minute she came to the conclusion that he was not going after her.
I know this section may seem really long, and I may have spoiled the ending for you, but as someone who is studying to be a mental health practitioner, I was astounded at the way the school counselor reacted to Hannah’s visit. There were many things that were done wrong, and I want to make sure I address this because a good counselor would not act the way he did. First, Hannah mentions some serious warning signs that she may be suicidal, and Mr. Porter should have been trained to read those signs. When a counselor sees these signs, they are legally and ethically obligated to do something about it. Typically, the counselor will not let the student walk out in order to prevent them from committing suicide. At this point, the counselor will call the necessary authorities, like an ambulance, and the student’s parents if they are a minor, in an attempt to get help for the student. The counselor’s job at this point is to make sure the student does not leave until their parents and/or the ambulance arrive. A second part I want to point out is the idea that the counselor was blaming Hannah for getting raped, by not saying no or asking him to stop, or implying that maybe she changed her mind in the middle of it. When an accusation like that is made, the counselor will take it very seriously, and give the student options as to what they can decide. At that point, it is up to the student as to what they want to do and how they want to pursue it. However, the counselor will encourage the student to continue seeing them, or see another mental health professional to deal with the sexual assault on their part.
What is the process of suicide?
Suicide is not an easy decision to make, and no one wakes up one day and thinks to himself that they want to commit suicide. There are usually events that build up, just like Hannah experienced in “13 Reasons Why.” There is no true process to suicide; there are no steps that are taken before someone commits suicide, but there are many parts associated with suicide. Some may ask “how does someone come to the conclusion that suicide is the best decision to make?” The answer: we will never know. Does it take years of bullying? Does it take just one incident? Is it someone who has experienced a lot of trauma? Is it someone who grows up in an unstable home environment? How long does it take for someone to make the decision to commit suicide? These are all questions that are not evident in every suicide, but instead is specific to each individual. The suicide process is unique to each person, and each story, like Hannah’s has its own plot.
How important is human interaction and connection?
In “13 Reasons Why,” there is a focus on the different interactions between Hannah and those who are on the tapes. Sometimes we forget how our actions towards others affects them mentally. This television series does a great job of reminding us that people having feelings, and what we say and do to them affects them. We can all remember that before committing an action, or saying hurtful words, we need to think about how that can affect the person we are doing it to. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself, would I be okay if those things were done/said to me? How would I react if someone did that to me? Instead, try telling someone how smart they are, how beautiful they are, what a great person they are, and how important they are. Even a smile, or a hi can make someone’s day, so stay positive and be nice to others. Or, maybe more importantly, just as Clay did at the end of the show, he was honest to Skye when she asked him how he was feeling. That honest conversation is important for both of them.
Why is it important to talk about suicide?
Suicide is no easy subject to talk about, but in order to make sure that people are informed about suicide we all need to be able to talk about it. We must remove the stigma of depression and suicide, and be sure that people know there are options to recovery and healing. If we keep looking at suicide as a taboo, a hush-hush subject, then individuals will not want to seek out people to talk about it. Today, if someone, a friend, colleague, adult, or anyone else came up to you and wanted to talk about suicide, would you be ready? Would you get that tingling sensation in your stomach that tells you how uncomfortable you feel? Or will you be ready to have an intellectual conversation about what suicide is, why people commit suicide, what the warning signs are?
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline