Grief Kids Suicide

13 Reasons Why I Can’t Stop Thinking About “13 Reasons Why”

Written by Hannah Carpenter

My husband and I recently watched the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. For those unfamiliar, it is a show about a high school girl who commits suicide and why she does it.  She records 13 tapes explaining the reasons why she decided to take her life, and we hear it all along with the characters on these tapes as they discover what part they played in her decision.  Spoiler alert: she was bullied, sexually assaulted, traumatized, and raped.  It’s pretty awful.  Many times I turned to my husband and said, “Why are we watching this?!”, a few times in-between heaving sobs. 

So why did we watch it?  Why is seeing someone else’s pain (fiction or not) so intriguing?  Why couldn’t we turn away for one second during each hour long episode?  Why would we want to be sad or hurt while we watch TV? Maybe because a piece of each of us can relate to pain, depression, desperation.  Maybe we have no clue what depression is like and to see a glimpse inside is fascinating.  

{Disclaimer: This show is for a mature audience.  There is a lot of language, drug and alcohol use, sexuality (including rape), and graphic scenes.  I would not recommend this to everyone, as it is quite disturbing at times.  Although I think it was very well done, it is brutal and hard to watch.  Use your own discretion.} 

Throughout the series, we had good conversations.  Talks about parenting, high school life, social issues and more.  My mind has not stopping thinking about this show and how it can impact people.  I do think it can open up some good discussion.  These are real issues, and things we cannot ignore.  As a parent, I need to learn how to parent in a way that gives my children the best chance of dealing with these issues.  As a person, I need to learn how to relate to people in these pits of despair—to see them and reach out.  As a woman, I need to be aware of other women feeling unworthy of true love and encourage them how worthy they are.  As a friend, I need to be intentional in checking in on those who may be withdrawn.  

Going with the theme of 13 reasons; here are my 13 take-aways from this show:

  1. You are created in the image of God.  No matter what you look like, how many scars you have across your arm, no matter what size you are, no matter what color you are… you reflect God.  His face shines on you, and you are amazingly beautiful.  He created you in His image.
  2. We need people.  We need friends – people we can hang out with and laugh with.  People we can share secrets with.  We need mentors – people who will be honest with us and call us out.  People who know more about life than we do, and who will share that wisdom with us.  We need people who we can pour into, who need OUR wisdom, OUR love and care.  
  3. As a parent, we need to know our kids’ friends.  Not just their names or where they live.  We need to know WHO they are, their interests, their dreams, their families.  
  4. As a parent, we need to know where our kids are (easier said than done, right?).  Who are they with? What will they be doing?  Is there an adult involved? 
  5. Even the most beautiful people are lonely.  The outside actually doesn’t matter when it comes to loneliness.  We never know who is struggling. They may be well dressed, popular, smart, or athletic.  They may be aching for a friend.
  6. We need the church.  A community of believers that cares about you.  People who miss you when you don’t show up and who ask how you are (and want to know the real answer).  And not just showing up to the building.  We need to be connected there… a small group, a youth group, a serving team, a bible study.  
  7. We need more of Jesus.  This world is starving for hope.  Hope of more, a better life, of direction, of a forever.  We need to know Him intimately so that we can reflect Him better daily.  So those who don’t know Him can see, can taste the HOPE we have.
  8. We need to understand teenagers.  Teenagers aren’t just young adults, smaller versions of us.  They are different.  Their brains aren’t fully developed.  They don’t always understand that this horrible feeling won’t last forever.  They can’t always rationalize or understand it’s not as bad as they think.  We have to try and understand them, not just trivialize them.
  9. We need to talk about uncomfortable things.  Often. Early on, when it’s not awkward yet.  Before there are problems.  So when these problems come (they will), it’s more natural to talk about it.  
  10. Cyber bullying is a game changer.  Texting, social media, the internet—it is everywhere, all the time.  There is no escaping it.  It has taken bullying up to a whole new level, and it is often less obvious.  It’s just as real as an in person attack, and we need to take it just as seriously.
  11. High school is scary.  It’s stressful, awkward, intimidating and exhausting.  It’s much harder than it was a decade ago, even five years ago.  We should be aware of how stressed these kids really are.  
  12. We are selfish beings.  We don’t want to look bad, even if it means doing the right thing.  We don’t want to go out of our way to help someone.  We don’t want to tell the truth if it means getting in trouble.  Most of our life is spent looking out for number 1, ourselves.  It’s a humbling thought.
  13. Even our smallest words and actions can be life changing to another.  We may not realize that joke we made just ruined that person’s self esteem.  Or that picture we drew shamed them to their core.  What about that note we wrote that accidentally got shown to the whole group?  It made someone hate themselves.  It also works in the opposite way… that compliment we gave made someone smile for the first time all week.  That apology over a silly misunderstanding allowed that person to let it go and actually sleep for the first time in a while.  When we let that person in front of us in line, they paused and remembered that actually there are kind people in the world. 

If you know someone who is struggling, here are a few talking points that may be helpful.  These were sent out to parents in Kearney Public Schools in Nebraska, provided by jed.org and savefoundation.org  The staff at this school understands that many kids are watching this show, and want to equip parents with how to dialogue about these issues.  

  • 13 Reasons Why is a fictional story based on a widely known novel and is meant to be a cautionary tale.
  • You may have similar experiences and thoughts as some of the characters in 13RW. People often identify with characters they see on TV or in movies. However, it is important to remember that there are healthy ways to cope with the topics covered in 13RW and acting on suicidal thoughts is not one of them.
  • 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.
  • Suicide is not a common response to life’s challenges or adversity. The vast majority of people who experience bullying, the death of a friend, or any other adversity described in 13RW do not die by suicide. In fact, most reach out, talk to others and seek help or find other productive ways of coping. They go on to lead healthy, normal lives.
  • Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act. Hannah’s suicide (although fictional) is a cautionary tale, not meant to appear heroic and should be viewed as a tragedy.
  • It is important to know that, in spite of the portrayal of a serious treatment failure in 13RW, there are many treatment options for life challenges, distress and mental illness. Treatment works.
  • Suicide affects everyone and everyone can do something to help if they see or hear warning signs that someone is at risk of suicide.
  • Talking openly and honestly about emotional distress and suicide is ok. It will not make someone more suicidal or put the idea of suicide in their mind. If you are concerned about someone, ask them about it.
  • Knowing how to acknowledge and respond to someone who shares their thoughts of emotional distress or suicide with you is important. Don’t judge them or their thoughts. Listen. Be caring and kind. Offer to stay with them. Offer to go with them to get help or to contact a crisis line.
  • How the guidance counselor in 13RW responds to Hannah’s thoughts of suicide is not appropriate and not typical of most counselors. School counselors are professionals and a trustworthy source for help. If your experience with a school counselor is unhelpful, seek other sources of support such as a crisis line.
  • While not everyone will know what to say or have a helpful reaction, there are people who do, so keep trying to find someone who will help you. If someone tells you they are suicidal, take them seriously and get help.
  • When you die you do not get to make a movie or talk to people any more. Leaving messages from beyond the grave is a dramatization produced in Hollywood and is not possible in real life.
  • Memorializing someone who died by suicide is not a recommended practice. Decorating someone’s locker who died by suicide and/or taking selfies in front of such a memorial is not appropriate and does not honor the life of the person who died by suicide.
  • Hannah’s tapes blame others for her suicide. Suicide is never the fault of survivors of suicide loss. There are resources and support groups for suicide loss survivors.

You May Also Want To Read: Another Teen Takes Her Own Life: We Must Stop Ignoring Mental Illness

About the author

Hannah Carpenter

I am simply a crazy and stressed homeschool mom living in Ohio. I have five amazing kids and one incredible husband who still loves me after 15 years. Most importantly, I am a daughter of the King who is trying to honor Him everyday through my parenting, teaching, art and writing.

2 Comments

  • Thank you for writing about this series. My daughter is 13 years old. Her and all her friends watched it. I knew what it was about but not the details. This was helpful!