I just binged watched Netflix’s show 13 Reasons Why and then read through the following:
What Went Wrong With 13 Reasons Why?
Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide
Recommendations for Blogging on Suicide
"13 Reasons Why" Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators
NIH Suicide Statistics
The Six Reasons People Attempt Suicide
Causes of Depression
What continues to jump out at me is that every criticism comes off completely flaccid. First, it’s fiction, which appears to have no strong empirical link to an uptake in suicide rates. That is not true for TV news coverage and celebrity suicides, according to the same article. There simply doesn’t seem to be much of a clear link with fiction and real life tragedy, although we can obviously find exceptions.
Second, so what? None of the links above and none of the past readings I’ve looked at actually gives a good reason against suicide. It is labeled as a public health issue (unclear as to why) and is described as abnormal, but what does that mean? Obesity is a public health issue, but becoming more and more normal statistically. It’s fairly safe to say that being overweight or obese is statistically normal now. That’s the problem with using statistics. As abnormalities and deviations become more prevalent, they become more normal by definition. Does that mean public health concerns disappear when the issues become the norm? Is this statistical or definitional?
That isn’t to say that everyone who sees 13 Reasons Why will be compelled to kill themselves, or even that a large percentage of the audience will. “It’s not that 50 percent of the people who see a depiction of suicide will be inclined to act,” Schwartz says. “But when you think about media that’s being consumed by large numbers of people, it will have an effect on a few of them, and when you’re talking about a life-and-death effect. … It’s small statistically, but it’s obviously desperately significant.”
These types of statements can be applied to almost anything. Homicide, terrorism, war, eating bad food, driving drunk, reckless driving, etc. Car accidents accounted for 38,300 deaths in 2015. Suicides accounted for 44,193 deaths in 2015 according the NIH listed above. According to the same data, “1.4 million adults aged 18 or older attempted suicide” in 2015 and, “4.4 million were seriously injured” in car accidents. Where is the outrage? The trigger warnings? The public health expert outcry?
Those numbers are for the US, but cars become much more dangerous once we move to global numbers where total deaths outstrip suicide by 425,000. If we wanted to be consistent, we should have the same types of articles and warnings for The Fast and the Furious as we do for 13 Reasons Why and ask the same question as the Vox article above. Imagine reading an article that read,
For someone who is not struggling with reckless driving, The Fast and the Furious racing scenes are likely to be very moving. It will probably make them want to be more cautious drivers and help keep their friends from driving themselves. But for someone who is struggling with the “need for speed” thoughts, The Fast and the Furious could very well be a factor that leads toward their death.
It would be ridiculous, though not because the problem is any less severe. Unintentional injury is the number one cause of death for persons aged 10-44. Driving is the biggest issue in that category. For ages 5-19, those deaths are most likely to be as passengers and not while behind the wheel themselves. It would make sense to see more outrage over other inflicted death via cars than self inflicted death due to suicide if the issue really were about death itself.
I don’t think that’s the real issue, though. I think the real issue is that people feel guilt when they are near to a suicide. We like causes, responsibility, and blame to be clear. In most deaths, we can clearly point to those things. With suicide, we often have a need to turn the mirror inward and reflect on ourselves and what we did or didn’t do. That process is neither comfortable nor comforting in many cases.
13 Reasons Why doesn’t need any why of its own. It isn’t responsible for more suicides, at least no more so than the glamorization of fast driving, war, or other serious risks depicted in works of fiction.
Looking at a TV show as a cause misses the point. So does a focus on suicide prevention. Preventing suicide in no way gets at a root cause, a reason to actually live. Preventing a negative doesn’t magically make a positive appear. If people are depressed and prevented the option of suicide with no legitimate or valid reasons for valuing life and looking forward to the future, it merely seems like a cruel joke. Society handles this terribly, and every time I ask for an answer I receive no reply.
You don’t like suicide? Come up with a legitimate reason a person shouldn’t. Period. Until you do, I don’t want to hear about why it’s bad, wrong, weak, or should be stopped or prevented. It’s not enough to say, “Don’t do that.” The onus is on you to also say, “Because this alternative is so much better and worthwhile.”
Suicide isn’t bad. Living in deep, persistent suffering is. Fix the suffering. The character Clay Jensen captures this succinctly when he tells the school counselor,
It has to get better. The way we treat each and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.