The Netflix show 13 Reasons Why doesn’t tell the whole story of teen suicide, but it’s got us talking about keeping each other alive.
I’m about to tell you the story of my life—more specifically, why my life ended,’ says the voice on the tape. ‘And if you’re listening to this tape, you’re one of the reasons why.’
Netflix’s series 13 Reasons Why is the story of 17-year-old Hannah who leaves a series of tapes behind to explain why she chose to end her life. The tapes make their way to classmate Clay, and the series is told through his and Hannah’s eyes. The show is deliberately in-your-face. It includes scenes of rape, drug use, violence … and suicide.
13 Reasons has been given a brand-new RP18 rating in New Zealand, which means teens are only supposed to watch it with supervision from a parent or guardian. Maybe you’ve already watched this show and maybe your parents know. Or don’t. Perhaps they even watched it with you. Or not. No matter. We still thought it was important to take a deeper look. (Some spoilers follow.)
Suicide is not 'romantic'
People have criticised 13 Reasons for ‘romanticising suicide’. And mental health experts say it’s not a good show for young people who’ve thought about suicide in the past—they’ll need strong support to talk through the issues and feelings raised.
The most important positive message is that talking openly about how life is going is one of the most important ways to fight suicide. So if a friend or family member seems troubled, ask what’s going on (see box for ideas).
Suicide is not a simple solution to life’s problems or an inevitable choice. Life is really hard sometimes, with lots of growing pains along the way, but it does gets easier and we will start to enjoy life again.
Suicide is not 'revenge'
Hannah sent mixed messages about wanting help. She angrily pushed people away, but always hoped and even assumed they’d come back. In her tapes, Hannah put a lot of blame on people for not helping her. This part of 13 Reasons isn’t easy if you’ve lost someone to suicide. But their death is not your fault!
Unfortunately, 13 Reasons paints a picture of suicide as revenge. But what is the point of revenge after you’re gone? Those you loved—and who loved you—won’t find comfort in this sort of ending. Their hurt is going to be deep and long-lasting. Ask anyone who’s lost someone to suicide. They’d give anything to have the one they’ve loved back again!
Taking yourself out of the world to punish others is mainly punishing yourself and those you love. If you’ve been wronged, you deserve to stay alive and to feel good about yourself again!
Hannah was bullied as lies were spread about her. And she was raped. None of this is okay! When Hannah did reach out for help, she got told to simply ‘move on’—when what she needed was support and help to tell her story so the person who raped her would be caught, stopped and punished.
The Bible doesn’t tell anyone to just ‘move on’ after they’ve been raped. Deuteronomy 22:25-27 (CEB) says, ‘If the man met up with the engaged woman in a field, grabbing her and having sex with her there, only the man will die [in other words ‘be punished’]. Don’t do anything whatsoever to the young woman. She hasn’t committed any capital crime … the engaged woman may well have called out for help, but there was no one to rescue her.’
It’s clear God puts the blame entirely on the rapist.
If you’ve been raped, know that God loves you, cries with you and stands with you. God is on your side and wants to be your strength even in those times when you feel weak and helpless. Especially then.
Rape is a crime to report to the Police. Just because a TV show makes it look like justice isn’t possible, doesn’t mean that’s how things have to be in real life!
Tell me you hurt!
It’s awful to realise New Zealand has the highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world. A television and social media campaign launched recently says Pasifika youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than Pākehā youth. We’ve got to change this!
‘Why didn’t you say this to me while I was alive?’ is one of the questions Hannah left behind. But the question the living have after someone has taken their life is: ‘Why didn’t you tell me how much you hurt when you were alive?’ Because we would have wanted to help carry that hurt. We would have wanted to save their life.
Reach out for help | Talk to a Salvation Army youth worker or corps officer (church pastor).
Kidsline for children and teens: 0800 543 754.
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757
How to Talk to a Friend
Zeal’s ‘Live For Tomorrow’ suggests being guided by the letters A-E-I-O-U. (Use whichever order feels natural.)
A - Ask about their experience: direct is best! The person should be 100% clear what you’re asking.
• ‘Have there ever been times when you’ve thought about killing yourself?’
• ‘Do you mind if I sit and talk with you about it?’
• ‘How recently was the last time you had those thoughts?’
• ‘Are you thinking about ending your life at the moment?’
E - Ensure Safety: if there are current thoughts of suicide.
‘This is important, and I think we need some extra help—we could try sending a text to Youthline or The Lowdown together?’
‘What can I do to help you keep safe for now?’
‘I’ll stay with you until we can find someone else to help.’
I - Identify Issues: explore what might have led to thoughts of suicide, and identify strengths.
‘What are some of the things that make you feel that way/like ending your life?’
‘Do things feel worse at home or at school, or somewhere else?
‘Are there things in your life that give you hope?’
‘It sounds like you were showing a lot of care toward the other person, even though they didn’t see it that way.’
O - Observe: look out for changes in activity/personality, and possible anchor points to life.
‘So you mentioned you’ve been drinking a lot more recently ... I’ve noticed you not coming around as much ... Sounds like you haven’t had much sleep this week ... You gave away X—I know that meant a lot to you?’
‘Who have been the most important people/places for you so far? What would it take to reconnect with/visit one of them?’
U - Utilise Supports: connect to support people, both personal and professional, identify coping strategies
‘What are some things that have helped you keep chill/brighten your day in the past?’
‘Is there anyone in your life you trust to talk about this stuff with?’
‘Let’s figure out what you might say to them when you see them next.’