‘13 Reasons Why’ is a TV series appearing on Netflix based on the novel (of the same name) by Jay Asher. It relates the story of a fictional teenager, Hannah Baker, and her suicide. She records and leaves behind 13 tapes going over why she has done this.
In all the hype over this series, some key messages may have been overlooked.
First and foremost, let me be clear, talking about suicide IS IMPORTANT but EQUALLY IMPORTANT is HOW.
Research has shown that if someone is contemplating killing themselves, asking them directly about it will NOT increase the risk that they will follow through. If anything, it may actually reduce that risk. Similarly, other research has shown that these acts are often impulsive and that survivors are most often grateful for the second chance they’ve been given. All these are true and so discussing suicide and pointing out all these facts is important — I might even add, life saving.
However, at the same time we must be careful about appearing to glorify suicide, making it seem romantic or a valid solution to an issue. Suicide does not inflict revenge on those left behind. It is most often a cry for help and that is what we should be responding to. We need to support the person during this time of crisis. It is immensely important to let them know that they are not alone — that there is help out there and with that help they can weather this storm.
We should not be showing people how to commit suicide. Showing someone how to kill themselves while they are in a vulnerable state is very dangerous.
These are all aspects of the discussion about suicide that need to be remembered. If your kids are going to watch this series make certain that they are aware of these facts. Netflix has made available some valuable resources that you might want to use as well.
Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.