This article contains spoilers for the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” while discussing the ripple effect of suicide.
“My brother died.” She muttered as she made her way to the manager’s office.
I was fourteen years old and working the snack booth in our local movie theatre when my coworker came in with tears streaming down her face. She looked empty. Her eyes were unfocused and expressionless as she answered me when I asked what was wrong.
I would learn later that her brother had taken his own life. He was the second of her siblings to take that route and in the following months she often spoke of her own desire to die. She worked through it, but not everyone escapes the ripple effect of suicide. Suicide leaves friends and family wondering what they did wrong. Some lay blame with themselves and others point fingers at one another. Some survivors want to die too, either to be with the lost loved one again or because the loss is too great to bear.
Often suicide threats are taken as a cry for attention and that is what they are, but when no one seems to hear that cry the threat can become reality. I was personally touched by suicide shortly before my sixteenth birthday.
For several months I shared a room with a 15 year old native-Canadian girl who felt very alone. Her parents had cut off all contact with her and her boyfriend was no longer taking her calls. She attempted to cut her wrists with school scissors and told anyone who would listen that she wanted to die. Shortly after moving to a foster home, she took her own life with the antidepressants that she had been prescribed for depression. I felt her loss deeply. I was angry with her parents, her boyfriend and the doctor who prescribed the medication. I wished that there was something more that I could have done to save her. I wondered if any of the responsibility lay with me.
At that point in my life, I am certain I could not have shouldered any of the burden of her death. Had she left me a note or a video placing blame on me, I may have followed in her footsteps. My life had its own challenges and I was a sensitive kid.
The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” focuses on the suicide of a teenage girl who leaves behind a series of tapes explaining the 13 reasons why she has taken her life. Each of these reasons is attached to the actions of a person who had wronged her in some way. The reasons range from a neglected friendship to rape, and her tapes are intended to be listened to by the people who hurt her.
“13 Reasons Why” is full of triggers for bullying, sexual assault and suicide, making it a difficult program to watch. There are many discussions online about whether your kids should be watching, and for me the answer is ‘no’. I have emotionally sensitive children who seem to be deeply impacted by sad or unfair events and I feel they would internalize the main character’s pain more than they would learn from it. Mostly I am afraid of the ripple effect from this show.
I worry about children like mine who will connect deeply with the girl who took her life and maybe feel that she found the only solution. I fear that kids will follow her lead and take their own lives while laying blame with others who may then also fail to see the reason to live. I worry about kids who are struggling with similar situations as the main character and how the show will impact them. I am concerned that not all parents know if they have sensitive children who may not benefit from watching it.
I felt sad to my core after finishing the series, and I don’t want to make my children feel that way. Instead, I want them to know that there are people to talk to and places to go if you are feeling alone or depressed. I intend to use the show as a talking point about suicide, bullying and sexual assault but I won’t be watching it with them or encouraging them to watch.
Have you watched “13 Reasons Why”? Share your thoughts in the comments.