How to React When Trauma is Trending
13 Reasons Why is the latest Netflix show everyone is obsessed with. While the show has received a lot of praise for its diversity, for flipping the silent dead girl trope and for its overarching message to be kinder to others, there are a growing number of people who are criticizing the show’s troubling portrayal of youth suicide and the risk it poses to vulnerable viewers.
The intended message behind 13 Reasons Why seems to be “Be kind to others. You could save a life.” Unfortunately, the way this fictional story is told can be very harmful. It doesn’t realistically portray mental health problems or the help that’s available. Instead, the show promotes death by suicide as a way to get revenge. In reality, suicide is not a way to be heard or a way to make people who have hurt you suffer. There are many studies that show that graphic depictions and descriptions of suicide actually increase the rate of people using that method to die by suicide.
When you die, you do not get to talk to people anymore. Suicide does not lead to resolution of problems. If young people die by suicide, it’s very final. You don’t get to know how people react. You don’t get to have control over the message bullies get. You don’t get to participate in your funeral. You don’t get to feel better. The only way to do those things is to live to be a part of the solution to these problems.
The show puts people who have experienced similar traumas at risk due to the graphic detail in the scenes. The graphic scenes can cause people who have experienced similar trauma and/or thoughts of suicide to re-experience those feelings and thoughts.
It is important to remember that there are healthy ways to cope with the problems that are in this show, and acting on suicidal thoughts is not one of them. Most of the people who have experienced a friend’s death, bullying and the other traumatic experiences in this show do not die by suicide. In fact, most of them talk to others, seek help or find other healthy ways to cope with what’s happened to them. We know that 9 out of 10 people who seek services for mental health challenges feel better.
If you have watched the show and feel like you need support or someone to talk to, reach out. Talk with a friend, family member, a counselor or therapist. There is always someone who will listen. Knowing how to respond to someone who shares their thoughts of emotional distress or suicide with you is important. Listen. Don’t judge them or their thoughts. Be caring and kind. Offer to stay with them. Offer to go with them to get help or to contact a crisis line.
~ Chrisanne Mayer, coordinator of Suicide Prevention and Urgent Care, Counseling and Testing Center
Suicide remains the second leading cause of death among young people and often results from not receiving treatment for a mental illness (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Anyone can experience suicidal thoughts regardless of age, gender, status or background. Students who know someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts should encourage them to seek help immediately and be assessed for risk. Students in crisis can call the Counseling and Testing Center at 404-413-1640 to speak with a counselor. The after-hours crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for emergencies at 404-413-1640.
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