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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why I'm not watching Netflix's "13 Reasons Why"

Image from Netflix

TW: Brief description of a suicide attempt.

I'm not watching Netflix's series "13 Reasons Why." The series is very popular, and Netflix recently announced a second season of the controversial series complete with new trigger warnings. "13 Reasons Why" centers around a teenage girl who kills herself, and leaves behind thirteen tapes addressing why she chose suicide. Mental health professionals have cautioned parents about the possible perils of allowing kids to watch "13 Reasons Why," and school districts, including here in Minnesota, have issued warnings to families.

The first time I tried to kill myself was on my 16th birthday. I had spent the day with friends, took a city bus home, walked into my parents' bathroom, grabbed two large bottles of my mother's prescription medication (Naprosyn and Darvon), went up to my bathroom, and took them. When you take that many pills, the effects hit fast and hard, and by the time I realized I probably didn't want to die, I could barely move. Somehow, I managed to call for my dad, and he ran upstairs.

If you're wondering how I got to such a dark place at such a young age, let me share what happened when my dad carried my barely conscious body downstairs. He told my mother what I'd done, and her first response as she watched my father struggle to carry me through the house to the car, was "What am I supposed to take tomorrow?"

Imagine that for just a moment. You're a mom, and your only child has ingested enough medication to die. Your only child, on her birthday, is being carried out of the house by her father. You look down at this young person, a person you are supposed to love and protect, and think only about yourself.

That was my childhood.

The idea of sitting down to watch a show that centers around a teenage girl who kills herself makes me very uncomfortable. As a survivor of suicide, I have to be very careful. There are books I avoid, movies I can't watch, simply because I don't ever want to even come close to feeling the way I did when I decided to end my life.

If you have no history of suicide, or suicidal ideation, and neither do your kids, "13 Reasons Why" will most likely not trigger any harmful thought or behaviors. But no matter what, children and young adults who watch this program should do so with parents. And parents? If your kid asks you questions about suicide, answer them. Talking about suicide is not going to plant suicidal ideation in an otherwise mentally healthy young mind.

I'm not watching "13 Reasons Why" because, after decades of therapy, after finally learning coping skills, and after coming to grips with who I am and what I can handle, I know how I would feel. I know what my mind might do to me. I know where my monsters live.

There are resources available for parents, and young people, on how to talk about suicide, what you can do if someone you love is suicidal, and even how to watch and discuss "13 Reasons Why." Please visit any (or all) of the links below to learn how to talk about teen suicide, and what you can do for someone in crisis.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

Kid's Health

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ youth)


And a very informative CBS interview with Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention can be found here.

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