Short of Jesus Christ’s return, each of us will die. That alone is a sobering thought, but to think some people will take their own life is incomprehensible for most. If you’ve ever lost a loved one to suicide, I’m truly sorry and you have my deepest condolences.
Death is inevitable and we wonder why anyone would want to hurry the process along, especially since most people spend their entire lives trying to avoid death/prolong their lives. Perhaps this basic “desire to thrive” is why suicide is so hard to understand.
Why do people take their own lives? The reasons are as unique as the people who end their lives, but one reason seems common to all, they didn’t see any other solution for the pain or problem they faced. I don’t know of anything more heartbreaking than the recent story that’s still making news of an 8 year old boy in Cincinnati, Gabriel Taye, who hung himself back in January after being bullied.
Northeast Tennessee isn’t immune to suicide. Recently, our region has seen a spike in the number of teen suicides. People are concerned about what some see as an encouragement to take one’s life, allegedly from watching a Netflix series, a series that is already going into its second season. If you haven’t seen the series or heard of it, I’m fairly confident all of the younger people in your life have.
The Netflix series that’s putting the spotlight on this taboo topic is “13 Reasons.” With all of the hype surrounding this series, I decided to watch “13 Reasons” for myself to draw my own conclusions. My concern, going into watching the show, was that the series would romanticize suicide. In my opinion, “13 Reasons” is raw, explicit, and at times disturbing, yet it’s well produced and both the script and acting are believable. And, after watching the entire first season, I do not think at all that “13 Reasons” promotes or glamorizes suicide in the least bit.
This is not to say the show is for everyone. “13 Reasons” is really well done and the story works, but if you or a loved one were contemplating suicide I don’t know if the show would be the healthiest thing to watch. Even though the show isn’t pro-suicide, the mere visual example might possibly normalize the process in the minds of someone struggling with it (There is a graphic suicide scene in an episode).
Also, there are several real-life topics, which teens face, that are covered in the series besides suicide. Some of the content will seem extremely inappropriate, like for example the gratuitous use of foul language in every episode. Or other subjects which are sprinkled through the series that will simply make you feel uncomfortable viewing, such as teen sex/rape, teen drinking, bullying, drug use, mean people conspiring in cliques, and a disconnect between the everyday lives of teens and adults.
Still, if suicide isn’t a personal struggle and if you have young people in your life or if you are an educator or in youth ministry, you might consider setting aside your “viewing standards” for the sake of being in touch with the lives of the young people for whom you care about, who by the way are already watching and discussing this series. By the way: This show is also a valuable tool for gaining insights into contemporary youth culture.
If you are completely unfamiliar with the show, the plot of “13 Reasons” is built around an audio recording from a young girl who takes her life before the first episode, and the fallout in the aftermath of her suicide. She recorded the cassettes, listing her thirteen reasons why she ended her life prematurely, and the cassettes are to be listened to by the people who contributed, in one way or another, to her decision. The “real-time” plotline of each episode is overlapped with flashbacks to when the young girl was still alive, weaving “present time” with the narration of the young girl chronicling her high school career and the tragedies she faced that ultimately led to her choice to commit suicide -- in one of the episodes they do show her slitting her wrists in a bathtub.
Between mainstream media and music and movies, suicide seems more and more “normal” and it is a ranking cause of death for young Americans. The top three causes of death among teens are, #1. Motor vehicle accidents, #2. Homicide, and #3. Suicide. The CDC says annually in America there are 14 suicides for children 10 and under, and about 1,400 suicides for children 11-18 years of age. And, these numbers are increasing.
These numbers do not reflect the multitudes of failed attempts either (there are approximately 575,000 teen suicide attempts annually). Neither do these statistics cover the many college students who end their lives as they consider the overwhelming challenges they’ll face after college. If you increase the age group past 18, up to to 24 years of age, the suicide rates jump to 4,600 a year (total for 11-24 yrs of age). Facing too many pressures, insecurities, uncertainties, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to success, while it’s not acceptable or excusable it is clear more and more young people seek suicide as a way out.
Even without a fictional show like “13 Reasons,” young people are exposed to other examples, there are celebrities who frequently make the national news after taking their lives, there are relatives who have taken their lives, and chances are the young people in your life have known someone who has taken their own life. Silence, regarding this topic, on the part of adults isn't a viable method to tackle this topic.
You may be uncomfortable discussing suicide, both its prevention or results, but there are a lot young people talking about it. It seems like pop-culture has a way of bringing fringe topics into the mainstream, and this is exactly what “13 Reasons” is doing, it’s getting people talking. Young people probably need mature adults to guide the conversation....
I’m not able to provide solutions or answers to suicide in this post -- I’m sorry if this disappoints you. I am hopeful less people will bury their heads in the sand and more adults will engage our culture and our young people as they navigate the tumultuous, confusing, and often heartbreaking years of high school. Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away.