I Call Your ’13 Reasons’ and Raise You One

The world can’t stop talking about “13 Reasons Why.” It is taking over Facebook.

Maybe I’ve lost too many loved ones to suicide because I do not understand the hype. Fifteen minutes into the first episode, I turned on something else. I was already nervous and doubtful, but after watching, I was just pissed off.

In high school, I was one of three high school students to make an attempt following the suicide of a classmate. Back then, help like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline didn’t exist. So, when my friend told me I should’ve known better, he was right.

Albeit, because I knew better, I knew when to stop watching. I knew when to turn it off and I was aware of the resources available if I became emotionally overwhelmed or suicidal. He defended the show, pointing out how it brings awareness to a taboo topic which is often silenced, but he chooses not to watch. I’m with him.

While awareness is crucial to suicide prevention and advocacy, how we utilize that awareness is essential in effectively saving lives. When it comes to the impact of suicide and the media, Madelyn Gould from the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Division of Epidemiology at Columbia University confirms,

The existence of suicide contagion no longer needs to be questioned.

We know the risks. Because we know the risks, media outlets like Netflix have a moral and ethical obligation to act with the same awareness this show is alleged to present. Instead, they are risking lives.

The Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicide specifically urge against detailed descriptions of method and site. They also encourage against headlines that will gain the front page of the New York Times and social media spotlight. In the description of the latest, most talked about television show, Netflix presents,

After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.

Clearly, their producers see media guidelines as friendly suggestions, instead of researched measures imperative to saving young lives.

One of the hardest parts of being a suicide loss survivor is the feeling of guilt. You replay their last days and you search social media posts and text messages, trying to figure out what you missed, and you blame yourself no matter how irrational it is, but there isn’t always a sign.

Here we are, taking suicide viral. Watching our sons and our daughters stare at their laptops and phones, thinking we’ve done enough to protect them; thinking they know better, and there’s no reason why suicide would impact our lives.

Right now, there is there a flashing, neon sign streaming across America, warning us that lives are at risk and we are strapped to the edge of our seats, gawking and applauding. We’re cheering it on.

While college students and teenagers are holed up at home with their eyes glued to Netflix, the clock is ticking. Silent, emotional reactions are transpiring inside of vulnerable people, ambivalent to their own suicidal ideation and naive to the risks. For the next suicidal teenager, death is just a matter of time, and “13 Reasons Why” is making the clock tick faster.

Maybe it is not suicide that is contagious, so much as the value of life. We should up the anti. We should help our children carry the weight and rise! We should be protesting, shouting, and taking a stand against it. Something (anything!) that sends the message that glamorizing suicide attempts and losses through celebrity-tinted camera lenses causes the entire nation to lose focus of what is required of us if we want to save lives.

Shame on Netflix, and shame on us for not taking more forceful action to protect the population in which suicide is the second leading (ages 10–24) and primary (college-aged) cause of death!

I don’t need thirteen reasons to turn off the show or unsubscribe. I only need one.

Life.