Why “13 Reasons Why” Will Not Convince Your Child to Kill Himself

I spent about five years of my life trying to kill myself. That’s one-fifth of my earthly existence. I try not to wave this card around too much, but there is so much fear surrounding subjects such as depression and suicide that we are ready to crucify anyone with an opinion that does not have first-hand experience. Actually, we’re ready to crucify anyone whose opinion doesn’t align with ours. I tried to overdose on pills many, many times — so many that I lost count — and you would be shocked at how many times I am told that this does not count as a suicide attempt because I “didn’t try hard enough.”

Or maybe you agree with that sentiment. You’re right; I didn’t try very hard. I may have ended up permanently institutionalized rather than dead. How much pain does a fifteen-year-old girl have to endure in order for it to “count?”

As a society we are very concerned about “suicide prevention,” but what about all the steps leading up to that? Do we care that our children live miserable lives, have dysfunctional relationships and can’t hold a job? Moreover, are we willing to take responsibility for loving and teaching our children so that they can lead happy lives? Or are we satisfied writing angry blog posts about the irresponsibility of Netflix, while ignoring who gives our children unrestricted access to these shows to begin with?

Parents, I’m speaking to you. To us. Because Netflix made a really crappy parent even before it added this latest show. 

It is our job to love our children, to look in their eyes when they walk into a room, pull them onto our laps, and earnestly ask them about their day. It is our job to celebrate every time they wake up in the morning or come home from school. It is our job to teach them how to interact with friends, classmates and teachers, to notice when something is wrong, when our children are sullen or cranky or difficult. It is our job to love them fully and completely and without anger. 

I get it. This is hard. I have a three-year-old and eight-month-old. It ain’t easy. I, myself, was one of the most difficult teenagers on the planet so it’s not hard for me to extrapolate about how my parents felt. You’re underwater and it takes all of your energy to surface for one breath of air to last you an entire day. Before we can pull our children out of the water, we need to climb ashore. If you’re looking for guidance, look here

But please stop waiting for TV shows to suddenly figure out the purpose of life and teach it to your little ones. Do you know what a perfectly happy, loved, confident teenager would do if they were watching a TV show that made them feel depressed?

They would turn it off. 

No TV show, song, or persuasive classmate could convince a happy child to attempt suicide. It wouldn’t make any sense! 

It could only affect someone who is already depressed. 

Duh, Veena, you say. That’s our concern!  Let me tell you my concern: the depression that existed beforehand. Someone who is so unhappy that they can be swayed to the idea of suicide was going to get there on their own. I promise. I can give you a written guarantee, if you like. Our children are not nearly as gullible as we think they are. 

My first suicide attempt was precipitated by the suicide of a classmate. A senior in my math class jumped off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. This was multi variable calculus, by the way. In high school. By all outward appearances, the girl had a bright future. Popular, pretty, heading off to college. 

Now, was my suicide attempt inspired by hers? Maybe. I definitely witnessed the glorification of suicide first-hand. People who had never previously cared about Emily were huddled together in hallways over wads of tissues. In fact, I was one of those people. But even if my first attempt was inspired by hers, how do you explain the other eight? I stopped thinking about Emily several months after I was released from the psych ward. People (myself included) attempt suicide because they are profoundly unhappy — not because someone makes it seem cool. When life sucks enough, there is a very low bar for palatable alternatives. 

Not a picture of me, but the psych ward I was in (credit: Robert Hamilton/ Baltimore Sun)

A couple years later my childhood best friend hung herself in her bedroom. I did NOT attempt suicide upon hearing this because by this point — even though I was still in the thick of my volatile depression. Why? I thought I was okay. If that thin illusion was enough to guide my decisions, imagine how much safer we are when we actually find happiness. When my childhood friend died I mourned for her pain while she was alive, not her death.

If you believe that a show to could convince someone to attempt suicide, then anything could. You’d have to homeschool your child so that they never ran the risk of meeting anyone who killed themselves, like I did. We cannot shelter our children from the world. Even if you do so, what are you accomplishing if they spend the rest of their lives in misery? In banning this TV show, you would be shutting your eyes and crossing your fingers and hoping that anyone who might have been affected just hangs on by their fingernails and happens upon some life-changing therapy or medicine at some later point in their lives. 

Having been through many, many forms of therapy, let me tell you that the chances of that are as close to zero as you can get without being zero. Like the protagonist on this show I sought the help of therapists before trying to kill myself, but unlike her, I had the benefit of actually competent and loving counselors and it still wasn’t enough. I tried Zoloft and I tried acupuncture and alternative therapy and none of it worked. Let me save you the trouble and tell you what does: this. Love. I know it sounds dumb. I know you think it trivializes mental health issues. But I have Borderline Personality Disorder and I am not shitting you. It’s true, it’s real, and it saves. 

If your child is watching this show, please don’t turn it off. They will feel even more controlled, more empty and more afraid and alone. Sit and watch it with them. LISTEN to how they feel. Ask questions. Touch them. Hold them. And then wake up the next morning and do it again, while the TV is off. Then chuck the whole TV out the window because they’re probably addicted to technology anyway. 

Whoever created life should have put a big trigger warning on it. Same with parenting. This shit is hard. We either raise our children with enough love to withstand the storms of this world or stand by and watch helplessly as they are capsized by the slightest wind. 

Go forth and love, parents. I have faith in us all. 

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2 thoughts on “Why “13 Reasons Why” Will Not Convince Your Child to Kill Himself

  1. Good stuff! This was a very deep show that touched on some very difficult subject matter. I liked this post. You’ve got my follow. Check out my comedy blog and give it a follow if you like it!

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