Yes, I watched the series. I had to. As an advocate for mental health, when this much attention is being cast upon something we fight so hard to help the world understand, I have to know what I’m dealing with.
And what I’m dealing with is absolute crap.
Hi, I’m Bailey Koch. I’m an advocate for mental health. What do I know about it? Well…a little. My husband, Jeremy, is a five-time suicide attempt survivor. He has locked himself in a garage with the exhaust running on our loader until it burned his lungs and finally a vision of our boys helped him reach for the opener. He has covered his head with a plastic bag until his grandma walked in and interrupted him. He has put a gun under his chin, closed his eyes, and pulled on the trigger so hard that it slipped and he threw the gun. He has fallen to his knees and pounded the floor so hard with his fists in absolute agony that he left purple and black lines trailing down to his wrists. He has blacked out while driving on the highway shortly after beginning a new anti-depressant medication only to be hit by a semi-truck and suffer a broken leg in four places, two flight for life helicopter rides, a collapsed lung, complete colon reconstruction, a fractured pancreas, a brain bleed, six surgeries in five days, and a month-long hospital stay.
But he has survived. All of it.
He is a survivor; we both are. Because as Jeremy’s primary support person, I can tell you mental illness doesn’t only affect him. And after living in the dark for over six long years, we finally figured out our silence was helping nobody, least of all us. How did we figure this out? Because the suicide note my husband left me finally told me the truth about everything he had been dealing with. Unfortunately, I found the suicide note before I found Jeremy was still alive. I believed he was gone. That minute before I found he had fallen asleep on the couch, and had not hung himself in the garage as the note indicated, was both the most terrifying and most relieving minute of my life.
For six years, I had prayed that Jeremy’s suicide attempt would one day be successful. Yes, you read that right. I prayed that the love of my life would end his life. I prayed for God to take him. In that moment, I believed my husband, the man who put everyone before himself and is the most unselfish person I’ve ever met in my life, had finally found an end to his pain on this earth. I was sad for me, but I was happy for him. Just like him, I had fallen into the trap of believing suicide was the only way out of the hell he was living in. He didn’t deserve this; nobody does.
But God took our pain and He turned it into something beautiful. He twisted my prayer and helped us use our experiences to help others understand the confusing reality of suicidal thoughts. Jeremy believes that note saved his life. He felt so much pain he had been holding inside of him release that night. He literally felt an enormous weight lift off of his back. He no longer was carrying the weight of depression and suicidal thoughts by himself; now his wife knew the truth. Now I carried part of that heavy burden, and it was much lighter walking the journey together. For better or worse, right? Trust me, this was worse.
So that’s what I know about it. Our book, “Never Alone: A Husband and Wife’s Journey with Depression and Faith”, was released in March of 2015. We’ve been blessed and honored to share our story in person all over Nebraska and beyond because of the magic of technology. We began and operate a support group for individuals suffering from mental illness or supporting a loved one. We have a growing Internet presence and we continue to fight for mental health awareness daily in any way we can. With a huge support system, we know we can’t help anyone by being silent. So we’re loud. And now that the world is getting loud about “Thirteen Reasons Why,” it’s time for us to shout.
THE SERIES, “THIRTEEN REASONS WHY” IS IN NO WAY AN ACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF A PERSON SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION AND SUICIDAL THOUGHTS.
I’m going to break this down for you so you can understand 7 reasons why I won’t support “Thirteen Reasons Why”:
- I know the truth. Depression and suicidal thoughts have much more to do with what’s happening within an individual that with what’s happening around them. Things happen in life that we can’t change. Problems, bumps, confusion, friendships, relationships, etc. All of these can “complicate” mental illness. You see, someone with depression and suicidal thoughts, we maintain, is missing a certain coping mechanism. Some of us can develop these coping skills on our own, through life experiences and such. Some need more help to develop them through more targeted intervention. But some don’t want help. Even more so, some don’t understand how to ask for help. So while life’s challenges can certainly complicate mental illness, what lies within is the ultimate factor. And it’s nobody’s fault.
- Suicide isn’t selfish. It absolutely breaks my heart that anyone watching this series will, even for one second, believe that they did not love that person enough. Suicide does not come from the desire to hurt another, but rather the desire to live fully and completely. The reality of what is happening in a person’s brain who is about to take his or her life is flipped from what we (with a healthy thought process in that moment) understand. They do think of you, and likely only you. But they truly and completely believe that their presence in your life is somehow hurting you or making your life more difficult. They truly believe, in that moment, that you will be better off without them. No matter how different the reality. In that moment, you are all that matters and the darkness has set in to the point where your loved one believes they are helping you, even saving you, by ending their life on this earth. They didn’t want, or mean, to hurt you.
- This isn’t about depression and suicidal thoughts. There is a whole other level of mental illness happening with Hannah Baker. Do not compare someone suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts with someone who appears to be using death as a form of revenge. That’s called murder.
- Suicide isn’t revenge. I lost 60 pounds in the six years when my husband suffered so greatly from suicidal thoughts and attempts. Maybe if I were thinner, he’d love me more and wouldn’t want to kill himself. Maybe I could look better. Maybe I wasn’t doing enough for him or being good enough to him. But you know what, none of it made any difference. Jeremy and I have an amazing and extremely loving and supportive marriage…always have. That didn’t matter. His brain had taken over and had convinced him that I would be better off without him. That our boys would be better off growing up without a father than to have him in their lives because he wasn’t good enough for them. Yes, there were pains in his life. Frustrations. People who were terrible to him. But in the end, it was always about Jeremy not being good enough. His brain told him he couldn’t handle the pain, he couldn’t change the situation, he wasn’t strong enough. Suicide isn’t revenge. It’s an internal battle. A person with depression and suicidal thoughts has to learn how to change the thoughts…coping strategies. Does this mean bullying is okay? HECK NO. See number five.
- Yes, bullying is wrong. Yes, something needs to be done. No, instilling fear is not the answer.What do I know about this? Well, I’m an educator and nearly a doctor of special education. I’ve studied the brain, development, and disabilities extensively. Most importantly, I’ve had a lot of experience in education. Bullying is not okay and something does need to be done. But the answer does not lie in promoting more negativity. Bullying the bully is the method society tends to lean toward lately. Please tell me what that solves. Please explain to me how tying bullying to suicide as a method of revenge is going to make a mean person magically change his or her ways. I don’t see your view. If anything, this series makes me extremely concerned that more kids, already confused about their role in life because they are still developing, will see suicide glorified. It breaks my heart. Negativity only spreads more negativity. But can we teach coping skills? Yes. Can we teach kids that bullying is not okay? Yes. Can we teach kids that you can’t control what others do? Yes. Can we help kids learn to stand up for themselves in an appropriate manner? Yes. Can we enforce rules better when bullying does happen? Yes. So many options. Education is the answer. Not fear.
- You can’t save them. And it’s not your fault. It’s not theirs either.We can only help when someone lets us. Sometimes, the darkness sets in and it’s hard to understand how to find a way out or how to let someone lead you. Ever been looking for something you desperately wanted to find? You search and search and search and finally give up. Later, you go back and find that item was in a location you had looked over and over. You had to have looked directly at it hundreds of times. It was there right in front of you the whole time. You just couldn’t see it because your brain was so focused on what wasn’t there. That’s suicide. That’s the darkness. It overtakes you in that moment. But “Thirteen Reasons Why” would have us believe that someone suffering from suicidal thoughts is an evil, plotting, revenge-seeker. No, that’s a murderer. Not only was Hannah out to take her own life, she was out to destroy others. And again, there’s a whole other level here. It’s just so far from the truth of depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Nobody wins playing the blame game. We have to stop blaming everything on everyone else. No it’s not okay to bully others; that does have to be addressed in society. But it’s also not okay to blame suicide on anyone; this idea only perpetuates the cycle. We are bullying the bullies and we are not addressing the problem. We are not giving resources to help each other, only to harm. Nobody wins when playing the blame game. We have to look at the problem for what it is. Mental illness is a real factor in our world. It’s a medical condition and there’s no cure, but there is help. So how about we help and not harm? How about we stop blaming and we start teaching positive coping skills and strategies? How about we help others understand you can’t change how someone treats you, but you can change how you react? It’s time to become proactive rather than reactive.
Bottom line: If you want to watch the series, watch it. And take it for what it is. If it opens up a dialog about suicide, peer pressure, bullying…awesome. That’s a great thing. But also take the series for what it isn’t. And it isn’t an accurate portrayal of a person suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. Suicide isn’t about revenge. It’s an internal battle that goes much deeper. It’s a mental illness and it’s nobody’s fault.