Thirteen Reasons Why is a fictional Netflix series. The show is about a girl who over the course of several years got bullied and raped, which led to her declining mental health. In the series, she leaves tapes for 13 people to describe their role in her decision to end her life. The show was the first exposure to the topic of mental health for some people. However, it is important to acknowledge some key differences between the series and what some people may experience in real life mental health.
First off, Thirteen Reasons Why was written to be an over dramatized story. What does this mean? Well, it means that the creators were trying to draw watchers into the story. Of course, the truth can be warped to fit within the story and it be used as a cautionary tale, BUT, it might be worthwhile for people to follow up watching this show by doing research on mental health or talking to someone who works in the mental health profession. Doing this will ensure that we are not creating inaccurate stereotypes of folks who may be experiencing trauma in their lives.
Second, there are many more options to addressing distressful and traumatic experiences than suicide. In 2014, only 13 people out of every 100,000 people committed suicide. However, there are roughly 18.5% of adults in the US experience some form of mental illness, and many of them are able to live with their illness. Most of them use therapy, medications or other healthy ways to deal with mental illness. The take away point is that people respond differently to mental health challenges and deal with them in different ways.
Thirdly, suicide is never the survivors fault. The main character in the series blames other people for her committing suicide. Suicide is no one’s fault. Suicide is the result of a person feeling they have no other options. In some ways, the series romanticized suicide through the tapes that she left for others to hear. Suicide is not beautiful, it is upsetting and sad.
There are many things that you can do in life to help yourself or other people who might be having a hard time:
Be there for them as much as you can.
Sometimes people feel they are fighting their battles alone. This is often not the case. Simply and constantly showing them they you are here for them can only help.
Listen, and don’t judge.
It’s okay if you don’t directly understand what they are going through. Letting them talk to you about how they are feeling can be very cathartic for some people. That’s why you’ll need to be careful how you react to what they tell you, because it is often hard to tell people about this in the first place.
If you believe that they are going to hurt themselves, never wait for them to actually do it.
I know that you might want to stay on that person’s good side. This is not the time to think of yourself. If they give signs that they might be self-harming or seriously thinking about suicide, contact an adult or the authorities. They might be angry at you afterwards for stopping them, but connecting them to someone who can help is critical. It has to be more important to you that they are alive and safe rather than them liking you.
If you feel like you can’t handle the information they are giving you, it is OK to take a step back.
You can to help without sacrificing your own mental health for them. Both of you should have a person (e.g., a therapist, teacher, parent, other adult figure) to talk to.
When in doubt, take the advice that you are given on a plane in case of an emergency: apply your own mask before helping someone else. So it’s okay to take care of yourself before trying to help others. Stay safe and stay connected.
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By: Ellen Nikirk
Ellen Nikirk attends Garrison Forest High School. As a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program, she is working with and learning from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health.