Let’s face it, being a teenager is hard, and maybe that’s why many relate to the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The world has changed and it’s not the same place it was when older generations grew up. The idea of being gunned down in school was a foreign concept and no one over the age of 30 could have predicted cyber-bullying would be a real thing. Today’s kids have a lot of pressure and unfortunately, many are at risk for suicide. According to Medline Plus, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death in children and teens between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Jason Foundation. Those numbers should scare people.
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and whether the show puts vulnerable children and teens at a greater risk of carrying out a suicide attempt. Some have called for Netflix to cancel the series, but to no avail. Be ready parents, 13 Reasons Why is slated for a second season. Read Harold S. Kopplewicz’ USA Today piece about why Netflix should pull 13 Reasons Why.
Despite warnings that the show may cause some to attempt suicide (see Scientific American’s piece on 13 Reasons Why and suicide contagion for more information) the show is considered a success. If you haven’t seen 13 Reasons Why it’s recommended that you watch it first. If you believe your child or teen is going to watch the series without your approval, then watch it with your teen.
Many experts recommend teens and children not watch the show, as Today reported, but like anyone who has been around kids knows, if you make something off limits, they will gravitate towards it the first chance they get. Like it or not, this suicide drama is part of youth culture and teens are going to watch it. It’s better they watch it with you, an interested adult who is monitoring his or her child’s reactions and responses to the show, than with friends who might think Hannah Baker’s suicide solved a lot of problems.
Worse, some teens who’ve contemplated suicide may be engrossed in the scene where Hannah sits in a bathtub, takes out a razor blade and slices into her arm, with all but a mere grimace of pain on her lips. It’s almost as if bleeding out into a bathtub is hardly as painful as being bullied, mocked, slut-shamed, and sexually assaulted. If your answer to the above was “it’s not,” then you need to seek professional counseling, fast. Life is hard and painful, but suicide is worse. Suicide is an ugly, painful, destructive process that destroys lives, robs families, and leaves an enduring, indelible pain that is not easily erased. Suicide doesn’t end just one life. It ends the lives of those you love and who love you. If you think no one loves you, you’re wrong. Suicide touches those you would never even realize. The story of suicide spreads like wildfire and those who hear of it are impacted. An emotionally troubled child or teen can become more depressed and vulnerable to a suicide attempt simply by hearing of someone’s suicide. You may think no one notices you, but you’re wrong. Suicide impacts everyone who hears about it.
Life gets better. Whether someone said you’re the wrong gender, race, ethnicity, color, weight, body shape, hair and skin type, income level, have the wrong fashion sense or are the wrong sexual orientation. It gets better. But here’s the thing; life can’t get better if you’re dead. There is never, absolutely never, a situation where suicide is the best option. And unfortunately, 13 Reasons Why fails to make this obvious. Instead, 13 Reasons Why never offered viewers any hope. What’s worse, is Hannah Baker never told anyone about her problems until after she made a suicide plan. She never went to see a therapist, was never treated for depression, never had professional counseling, and never addressed any of the underlying issues that she dealt with. She kept everything bottled up and then killed herself and the bloody suicide scene was depicted in full graphic color for teens to watch.
Maybe the best thing about 13 Reasons Why is that it is fiction. Those who watch this series with their children or teens should be quick to point that out. Let them know the reality of suicide, but better yet, tell children how to handle bullying, slut-shaming, and sexual assault and teach them to never give up on themselves. The human spirit is built to overcome, to conquer, and to transform the ugliest ravages of life into positive experiences. Holocaust survivors endured the most horrific atrocities known to man, and still, the human spirit prevailed. When looking for inspirational stories of how people never gave up on themselves, you will find a wealth of inspiring stories that can ultimately instill a positive outlook in children and teens, rather than telling them indirectly that when life is at its lowest point, the best solution is suicide.
Right now, America’s Got Talent is going viral. The story of Mandy Harvey has caused people worldwide to respond with heartfelt emotion. Mandy Havey is a singer and songwriter who went to college to fulfill her dream of being a singer. At the age of 18, she suffered what she thought was an ear infection. She ultimately lost her hearing and her lifelong dream. Permanently deaf in both ears, she struggled with overwhelming depression and had given up. What makes Mandy’s story inspirational is that she pulled herself up out of the dredges of despair and began singing again. She shared her story on America’s Got Talent, but had performed earlier at the Kennedy Center where she delved into her years of depression in further detail. You may watch a video of Mandy Harvey performing “Smile” at the Kennedy Center below.
While speaking before singing “Smile,” Mandy Harvey explained how when she was losing her hearing she became depressed and stopped performing music, but still sang to herself. Her voice broke as she stated she would sing “Smile” repeatedly, but not as a way of expressing happiness, but instead encouraging herself to believe that things would be better. Sometimes in life, things don’t get better overnight, but we have to encourage ourselves to believe that they will get better. This is the difference between going through a struggle or obstacle and giving up. Suicide is giving up. It’s a complete and utter failure and no one should ever give up on themselves. Mandy Harvey explained the meaning of “Smile” in her life as follows.
“So this song, for me, was what helped pull me out of that hole. And I just really want to encourage you guys. There are so many things and challenges in life that you feel like you can’t get over. And this is your moment. And you can’t just let it go because it’s difficult. You have a dream — you do it. If it’s different, if it’s changed, then go around. Find a different road, but find the finish line. And smile through it. It’s going to be okay.”
You may listen to Mandy Harvey perform “Smile” below.
“Smile” isn’t Mandy Harvey’s only inspirational song, nor can we expect it to be her last. On June 6, 2017, Mandy Harvey performed on America’s Got Talent where she again told the story of how she lost her hearing and her dream. This time, however, she didn’t sing someone else’s song, but shared a song she wrote out of her pain and sorrow. The song is called “Try” and she explained how she became tired of giving up on her dream and decided the only thing stopping her from doing what she wanted to do was herself. She moved out of the way and believed in herself. Only then did her negative shift to positive and she was able to focus on her dreams again.
“Try” earned Mandy Harvey Simon Cowell’s golden buzzer. The video has received over 10 million views on YouTube in less than a week.
There is no question that people are hungry for Mandy Harvey’s inspirational message and music. For those who are depressed or struggling with issues of low self-esteem or negativity in general, please get help. Find a counselor to talk to but turn off things that are going to make you more depressed or influence you in a negative way. Surround yourself with positive voices, like that of Mandy Harvey who knows what it’s like to be at rock bottom but didn’t give up on herself or her dream.
You don’t need to give up on yourself either. Listen to Mandy’s words and likewise, give yourself a try.
[Featured Image by Trae Patton/NBC (used with permission)]