I began writing this post in February of 2017 with the idea that I would post it during national suicide prevention awareness month in September of 2017. Then 13 Reasons Why happened.
This is what I wrote back in February of 2017 when this topic was foremost in my mind:
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. Ahead of homicide and behind accidents, suicide accounts for approximately 8.7 deaths per 100,000 as of 2014. As of this writing, suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
This is unacceptable. And we all know it.
This sickens and angers me beyond all recognition because we could prevent and detect it better with more well-integrated physical and mental health care. Specific segments of society are at even greater risk for suicide: Native Americans, LGBTQ, and individuals with disabilities.
This is what I write now after having watched 13 Reasons Why all the way through three times.
I am going to write this as a consumer of art, as a father, and as a mental health provider.
Things I thought the series did well in the service of addressing suicide risk factors:
Portraying slut-shaming and sexual assault as risk factors for suicide
Elaboration of the "bro-code" dynamic that encourages the bystander effect
Pro-social presentation of consent (during Hannah's interaction with Clay)
Range of issues that can lead to adolescents being bullied or ostracized
Hyper-acceleration of comparison and degradation via social media platforms
Things I thought the series insinuated but did not do well to follow through on:
Highlighting the importance of friendship as a protective factor
Underscoring the desperate need for expanded school mental health
Touching on the need for fostering communication between adults and adolescents
Things I thought the series failed at articulating in a coherent manner:
Presentation of topics without trigger warnings and access to resources
I recognize that they added these later. A day late and a dollar short. I am a staunch proponent of free speech, but the creators of this show owed the viewers (particularly younger ones) access to content to support their reaction to it.
Presentation of conflicting roles for the school counselor as normative
I recognize that mental health providers are fallible and human. However, the lack of skill and empathy as described here in Mr. Porter’s Mistake is inexcusable.
Woefully inadequate and inept suicide risk assessment on multiple levels
I recognize that we cannot prevent every suicide. But we can prevent some.
After the show received quite a bit of critical acclaim and consternation, they added in some of the things I referenced here in my thinking and writing back when 13 Reasons Why was originally released.
The best defense is a good offense.
We need to go on the offensive by doing everything we can to prevent suicide today. There are so many direct and immediate ways that people can involved with suicide prevention efforts:
Reading and Sharing Resources: https://www.nami.org/suicideawarenessmonth
Joining or Supporting a Walk Team: https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?
Learning and Knowing the Signs: http://www.suicideispreventable.org/
Connecting with Professionals: http://www.gvpa.net/event-2018-10-12.asp
At the end of the day, there is no good reason for how or why someone takes their own life.
This song and music video by Chris Stapleton radically captures the experience of suicide.