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Why It Will Take More Than a Successful TV Show to Raise Awareness About Suicide

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Two weekends ago, I binged-watched “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix, knowing I probably shouldn’t. I read the book a few years ago and didn’t need to see it on a screen to understand the pain and trauma, as suicide has impacted my life personally. I lost my dad when I was eight years old and I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. To be honest, by the time I got to the end of the last episode, I felt the trauma again. I felt empty. It was graphic, but every time I tried to look away, my eyes never moved. It brought up painful feelings and hurt. It’s a fictional television show, but for many, including me, it’s a reality. That’s what I feel as though has gotten lost in the tornado of success the show has had. Suicide shouldn’t be glamorized. Pain shouldn’t be glamorized. Mental illness shouldn’t be glamorized. It’s the reality of millions of people.

Though I’m glad the show has started the conversation, I’m sad it’s taken something fictional to start a conversation, to talk about things that are taboo and tough, but need to be shared. It shouldn’t take a show for people to realize we need to be kind, that we need to treat others with respect and compassion.

It’s the little things that matter most. When you ask someone how they’re doing, do you mean it? Is it just a conversation filler? Do you really care? Those three words could change someone’s day and life. When you start with kindness and compassion, things change. When people realize you’re reaching out because you care, things can change. We live in a dismal world where it’s particularly easy to get caught up in the materialism, the cynicism and pure hatred. It’s all around us. The news, social media, society, etc.  But it’s also easy not to. The difference between you and I, between us and any person in the world should bring us together, not tear us apart. When we lead with curiosity and acceptance, the world becomes a kinder place. I’m not sure how to get there, but it starts with you and I — it shouldn’t start with a television show.

Without a doubt, “13 Reasons Why” has facilitated a conversation about suicide, mental health and bullying, but why has it taken this long? The painful reality is there’s so much ignorance around suicide and mental health. Many don’t understand — or choose not to understand — that like other body parts, our brains can also break down, can also be sick. Invisible illnesses that very much ravage the bodies and minds of millions of people every second of every day. Similarly, many don’t understand suicide isn’t cowardly or makes a person “weak.” Some people literally get to a point where they cannot withstand their pain, the illness in their head. We have to get people the help they need when they need it. We have to be kind and empathetic. We have to talk about it, to let people know they’re not alone.

This is not a shot against “13 Reasons Why,” by any means. If you want to watch it, watch it. If you don’t want to watch it, don’t watch it. The beautiful thing is we have a choice. Regardless of whether you watch it or not, I hope more people can start choosing kindness in this tough world and start choosing compassion instead of hate. A television shouldn’t have to teach anyone this. We should already know this.

We never know the pain another human is going through. Visible or invisible, pain is real, mental illness is real, suicide is real and it takes more than a successful television show to raise awareness.

I am loved more than I may know. You are loved more than you may know. Start with kindness and end with kindness. Be open-minded. Have compassion. Be understanding.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via “13 Reasons Why” Facebook page.

Originally published: April 20, 2017
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