Having just finished the popular Netflix series from 2017, I’m writing in response to my reactions to the series as a whole. Originally, when the series was aired, I boycotted both the series and Netflix. As a family and adolescent therapist in Washington DC who works with teens in crisis, I was troubled by the dramatization of a completed suicide, which in real life is not entertaining nor is it as simple as this TV series depicted. Yet, I was urged again to watch the show after a series of completed teen suicides in the area recently, which created subsequent responses in my clients and their friends. In short, I did what my teen clients often do with a show–I binge watched it over the course of a short time. I was angry, and desperate to understand what could be triggering or influencing our adolescents in the area.
In short, the series got much of what happens with teen depression and suicide completely wrong. While it captured some elements that may contribute to the pain a depressed or suicidal teen feels, it failed to show the nuanced process that often goes into recovery for a person who is depressed and their family. Most teens who attempt suicide, do not complete suicide. And most completed suicides are not done due to one specific event, or even a series of specific events. And, most teens who are depressed often have many, many people trying to help them recover–friends, family, counselors, therapists, doctors, coaches, teachers, etc.
Most importantly, most teens who feel suicidal often do not act on such feelings primarily due to the help, comfort and support of someone who notices their pain and reaches out to them. While teen suicide does happen, it is not the norm–it is the exception. And, we do have some influence in helping a depressed teenager consider their reasons for living rather than succumbing to their feelings of wanting to die. As a family and adolescent therapist in nearby Bethesda and Washington DC, I often work with teenagers who feel suicidal or contemplate taking their own life. And, I get to see these teens through their own healing from depression, self-loathing, and despair; I also get to talk with teens who are on the other side of such pain. And here is what they say to me once they have started to heal and have begun to live again with greater hope and happiness.
13 Reason WHY NOT to take your own life……
- I didn’t think that I could ever feel happy again, but I know now that I can.
- I thought that I was alone, but that was just my feelings talking for me. I know now that others are hurting too.
- I felt trapped, like things would never be any different….I now have things to look forward to in life.
- I thought that my parents didn’t care, but now I see that they do. I also know how much it would hurt them if I had followed through.
- I didn’t know how to ask for help, and now I can ask for help more clearly. I can also help others who might be feeling this way too.
- I didn’t see a future, and now I am going to my dream school.
- I thought everyone hated me, but now I focus on those who are important to me and care about me.
- I used to hate myself, but now I “get it” and I’m starting to like myself a little..and sometimes a lot.
- I was pretty scared to open up, yet now I want to be with people who are real and “get it.”
- I can’t believe that I scared my friends (family) like that–I don’t want to do that to them again.
- Life looks way easier on TV–it’s harder in real life, yet still worth it.
- It was such a blur, and I’m glad that I’m not “in it” now. I can see more clearly now.
- Nobody should ever have to feel that way, not even me.
My heart goes out to grieving family and friends, and I hope for some comfort and solace over time as they heal from these horrible losses. My heart is filled with fury at such programs as 13 Reasons Why, their writers, and their producers. While I know they tried to get it right, they just didn’t. I have immense fear as I consider how that TV show might have reached the wrong person at the right time–resulting in a young person finally feeling convinced to follow their pain and take their own life. Don’t let your kids watch this show, and if you do let them watch, talk to them about how TV shows are fiction, feelings are not facts, and how this TV series is not reality. Real life is about finding connection when we are in pain, no matter what. That is courage, that is bravery, that is real living!
***The statements in this blog are not verbatim statements from clients but summarized content from years of working with teens and families who have dealt with suicide attempts and feeling depressed. ****