13 Reasons Why - Letter From Our CEO

Top 3 Reasons to Keep an Open Mind About “13 Reasons Why”

Annmarie Cameron, CEO

Mental Wellness Center

As a mother of two young adult daughters and as a mental health advocate, I became drawn to watching the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”, a story of a high school girl who completes a suicide and leaves behind the account of her experienced emotional and physical pain for her peers to discover.

I am not a clinician and therefore state upfront here that my opinion is based on my personal observations and discussions with others about the merits and dangers of this series. Some are concerned that the show romanticizes suicide; others are praising the producers for starting an active dialog about a very difficult subject. Both sides have very valid points.

These are my top three reasons why keeping an open mind about this series is warranted.

#1. When it comes to suicide, curious conversations, debate and open minded talk is good.

When is the last time you solicited the opinion and impressions about a film from a young person and then really listened to what they had to share? I was more than half way through the series before my 18-year-old encountered me watching it and she sat and viewed the balance of the show with me. She reported that not only had she already watched the show, she read the book. We had numerous discussions about the merits of the accuracy of the portrayal of typical teenage life and even more importantly, her experience in high school. We talked about where we thought the show was on point and off base. Ultimately we had many shared impressions and I learned a great deal about her perspective.

#2. Talking about suicide does not lead to suicide.

The course Mental Health First Aid teaches us what is widely known to be true but counter-intuitive to most people and that is that talking about suicide does not plant the seeds of suicidal thoughts in others. Rather, the very gesture of asking someone if they are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide can be a great relief to a person who may be looking for the opportunity to share their feelings. The presence of an encouraging person can be a powerful aid in the most vulnerable situations. Learning the skills to be a calming, reassuring source of mental health first aid is important.

#3. Controversy can add to awareness.

The media, schools and parents have legitimate reasons to be concerned about young people watching “13 Reasons Why” especially without the benefit of adult support. You can google the numerous opinions and recommendations about things to consider should you decide to watch yourself or allow your teen to watch it. I believe the controversy has led to an awareness that we should hope grows and continues. Imagine all of the families who have been touched by suicide and then recognize that there are far more families who you know that still carry the burden of stigma and shame of suicide. I recently learned that one suicide can directly impact the suffering of over 100 others individuals.  Isn’t it time we relieve the burden of shame and point to the extreme shortage of resources to prevent mental health crises? Can we harness our grief and anger that young people suffer when more isn’t available to help them when they need it? Controversy can add to awareness, awareness can lead to empowerment and empowerment can lead us to a community movement where we don’t accept the status quo.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Feel free to email me at acameron@mentalwellnesscenter.org