“You can’t love someone back to life.” This statement has been playing over and over in my mind since watching the last episode of the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. I saw the show pop up on my list several weeks ago and quickly skipped over it. I didn’t particularly want to watch a show about suicide. I guess this may be the response many have to this dark topic. However, after several requests for my thoughts on the show, I decided to give it look.
My first thought, I’m glad it has people talking about teen suicide, cutting, and rape. We can bury our heads in the sand as much as we want on these topics. But the truth is these are a reality for our teens. In my opinion, the show is not far off in depicting the challenges of high school. Kids can be very cruel to each other. I realize this more and more as I sit with teens and hear their pain. It breaks my heart to say, but I cannot even begin to count the number of suicidal teens I have worked with.
While I appreciate the show shedding light on these important topics, I feel it falls short in many ways. First, the depiction of parents sends a scary message to teens. While the high school students are dealing with real life challenges of bullying, cutting, rape, peer pressure, drugs, and even death they don’t speak up or reach out for help. Parents are kept in the dark and avoided at all costs. While it is part of adolescence to develop independence, parents are a HUGE resources and guide during this challenging time. They are probably the only two people on the planet that would give up their life for you. Give up their life for you! It doesn’t get more loving and supportive than that.
I know parents get a bad rap. They can be dorky, embarrassing, and insanely frustrating. I don’t think anyone gets parents who love him or her the exact way they want to be loved. Parents can be tough. However, there isn’t a love greater than the love a parent has for their kid. I wish kids could see just a sliver of this. When you are really hurting, your parents can help. No matter how many times they have yelled at you or punished you, they do have your back and have your best interest at heart.
By the end of the show the teens were now dealing with death, rape, and suicide. What started out as teasing, bullying, and relationship struggles quickly escalated without any support from parents, counselors, coaches, etc. I experienced a similar trajectory in my own life. I didn’t talk to my parents. I didn’t tell them I was having trouble at school, struggled to make friends, and felt completely alone in the world. This was how I felt in 7th grade. I had several friends die and these feelings intensified. I still didn’t say anything. I stopped having much of an appetite, struggled to sleep, and lost interest in things I once loved. Still I said nothing. By the time I was in high school I was having daily thoughts of killing myself. Still I said nothing. I went to college and was raped. Then I witnessed a friend die. Still nothing. My life spiraled out of control and it took a suicidal crisis to bring this to light… at the age of 35. I wonder how it would have gone if I spoke up in 7th grade.
What I didn’t know in 7th grade was something called depression. I didn’t know anything about mental illness. I didn’t know that it affects one in five adolescence. I didn’t know it was treatable. Well, neither would anyone watching this show because mental illness is never mentioned. Most individuals who are suicidal have an underlying mental illness. Not talking about it sends the message that it shouldn’t be talked about. This adds to the stigma and shame that already makes reaching out for help challenging. There is nothing wrong with having a mental illness. It doesn’t make you weak, less than, an outcast, or “one of them.” Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year and roughly 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. (See more at: http://www.nami.org). A lot of us live with this experience.
Lastly, the statement that I was left with, “You can’t love someone back to life.” A school counselor said this to a student in response to helping someone who is suicidal. In my view, this could not be more inaccurate. This is EXACTLY how you do save a life; you love them. Suicidal ideation is about thwarted belonging and feeling like a burden. Connection is the key to healing this. I was loved back to life and if it worked for me it can work for anyone. So yes, you can love someone back to life. And it starts with a conversation. Talk to your parents. Ask them your questions. Share your pain. They can help or they can get you help. If you can’t talk to them, talk to someone, or call the crisis line (800-273-8255). Talk to your kids. Make sure they know this is an open door with you. It starts with you being vulnerable with them. Talk to each other, and I mean really talk. Be honest, share your heart, and love each other. We can all get better at slowing down and taking the time to really connect, to listen, and love each other.