Why adults should be watching 13 Reasons Why

13 reasons why

I started watching Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why yesterday afternoon thinking that it would be another teen drama. A day later, I’ve binged the whole series, and I can say conclusively that it is actually like no other teen drama that I’ve ever seen.

13 Reasons Why is based on a book of the same name about a girl named Hannah Baker – Hannah commits suicide, and leaves 13 tapes behind, one for each person who contributed to her ultimately killing herself.

It spoke to me in a way that I did not anticipate. I’ve dealt with depression on and off for my entire life, and I struggled with suicidal thoughts often in my youth. I have never seen a show or movie that dealt with depression and suicide so honestly. 13 Reasons Why does an incredible job of exploring the interplay of depression, peer pressure, harmful gender roles, sexual assault, bullying, grief, and the loneliness and confusion that one can feel as a teenager. And I think that sometimes people forget this about adolescence – yes, it can be fun, and exciting, and carefree in the days before “real” responsibility, when everything in life is still brand new. But it can also be lonely as hell. It can be hard. And too often, adults can minimize the overwhelming feelings of adolescence. It’s easy for us, on the other side, to overlook the very real struggles that teenagers deal with. It’s also easy to gloss over things. In my time working in health communication this has happened so many times. I pushed and pushed to create brutally honest resources for parents and teens on issues like sexuality and mental health. I remember once talking to a team who wanted to create a resource on teen suicide, and one of my supervisor’s felt that even saying something along the lines of “to prevent them from committing suicide” was too graphic. Too horrible. It would make people uncomfortable reading it. I wanted to write a piece on talking to teenagers about sex and consent, but was met with the same pushback. We don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. But here’s the thing – we are not doing teens thinking about killing themselves any favours by sitting in our comfort.

Suicide should make us uncomfortable.

The teens in 13 Reasons Why frequently skirt around having awkward conversations with their parents and each other. They say that everything’s fine, despite how incredibly obvious it is that things are not. They avoid. And in the end, their avoidance of discomfort leads to tragedy.

Every parent I’ve ever talked to has said that they “want their kids to be able to talk to them about anything” even things that are really hard. But how can we expect teenagers to open up these conversations when we’re so afraid of them ourselves. It is too horrible to imagine that our own children could do horrible things, and so we avoid even openly acknowledging that these horrible things exist. It is not helpful to simply tell a depressed teenager that “things will get better”; but it might be helpful to open up to them about a time when you also felt hopeless and alone, and how one day things changed.

13 Reasons Why tells a story of teen suicide without talking around it, or romanticizing it. It’s beautiful and compelling. Some scenes are very hard to watch. It’s a little slow in places. And it has a really amazing soundtrack. But more than a good show, I think that it’s an important show. And especially for parents of kids coming up on teenagehood, people who work with teens, and teenagers themselves, it’s a show that can open up those difficult conversations, and take us out of our comfort.



the 100 day project – 61-74?

I’ve skipped a lot of days. Many on which, I have had an idea, or have meant to write, but have just made some kind of excuse, or have just been lazy.

Tonight, at run crew, I found out that one of us died. It was not someone who I personally knew, but it was a person who felt, this past week, that the alternatives had become so bleak that the only option left was to take her own life. And despite not knowing this person, I do have some idea of what it feels like to feel so alone, and it is utterly heartbreaking that there was not some way to pull her from this place.

The thing that I spoke about briefly with a running colleague, and that we rarely speak about in running, is that there is a reason that we run. And in a crew like ours, when that reason is not vanity, it can often be to escape some darkness. OBVIOUSLY this is not the case for everyone, but I would wager than many of us struggle, and that running is the non-negotiable part of our week that keeps us away from that darkness and closer to the light. This is why I run. And maybe I’m projecting my own escapism and triumph onto others, but holy hell has it helped.

This is a segue, and I don’t know how else to segue it, so here we go. There was a time in my youth, where every day, I wanted to die. I cried. A lot. And I remember always feeling so alone. Every day was a day long full blown panic attack. And I remember, walking down the street and thinking to myself. This is the moment. I cannot possibly take this any more. Today is the day. Something needs to change, or I am going to kill myself. Because if this is my life… if this is the way that I am going to feel every single day, I cannot fucking take it any more.

And that week, I checked myself into therapy, and began to make a change. BUT I was lucky. By some fluke, there was a program that existed for people affected by addiction to receive free therapy, and by some miracle, I was still a student, so it fit into my schedule. By some further miracle, my brother had gone before me, and so had primed the counsellors at this facility to know that addiction had been a factor leading me to this moment. I had not fully realized that my father was a raging alcoholic, and honestly, if the therapists I was working with had not known this in advance, there is no way that I would have felt that I qualified for their help. I was still living under the keep calm carry on banner, and I had literally no idea that my childhood was a horrific shit show until I was explicitly told by a stranger.

ANYWAYS, the point that I am trying to make here, is that SOMEHOW, for me, the resources existed. And without them, I would not be alive today. I would have gone to this place. I would have felt alone and unworthy. I would have taken my own life. And I would no longer be here.

And even though now, I do not feel suicidal, I do feel many of the feelings that lead me to feel that way. I feel the anxiety, and insecurity, and loneliness. I don’t feel like I’m good enough. For anyone. Or anything. I feel despair.

No. I do not feel these things all the time. In fact, most of the time, I feel loved and amazing and supported, and just the best.

But every time I hear about someone who was not able to find that support, who was not able to ask for help, who did not believe that the darkness would ever pass, I feel the need to talk about this all over again. We need to start taking mental health seriously, and we need to start listening to people who suffer, and we need to remove the stigma associated with darkness and depression. We need to make it ok to talk about mental health so that noone ever feels that there are no options left for them. So here’s my challenge for you – if you are one of those who sometimes suffers – talk about it. Talk about it with your friends; talk about it with your colleagues; talk about it casually and openly like you might any other normal health issues that impedes your day. You wouldn’t be made to feel shameful for seeking asthma treatment, and it should be no more shameful to seek treatment for mental health.

The more we talk about it when we’re well, the easier we make it for others to talk about it when they’re not, and the better things will get for all of us.