After watching the TV series 13 Reasons Why, some people said the show glorifies suicide. This is an understandable reaction from people who have never been suicidal. However, for those who have been suicidal, the show provided them with a deep sense of validation for feelings that went unacknowledged their whole lives. For many, it was healing. For others, it was eye-opening to see the devastation their suicide would cause.
Suicidal people don’t generally understand the devastation they’ll be leaving behind when they take their life. They usually see themselves as a burden to others, and believe the world would be better off without them. For a show to glorify suicide, it would have to paint suicide in a light that validated those false beliefs. It would need to make suicide look easy, painless, and without consequence to others.
On the contrary, 13 Reasons Why depicts the reality of how destructive suicide is to others. What the show reveals directly contradicts what most suicidal people believe to be true. The show has the potential to make suicidal people to question their beliefs that justify suicide, which might make someone change their mind.
It’s okay to ask someone if they’re suicidal
Nobody wants to say the wrong thing to a suicidal person. People worry they might say something that will push them to commit suicide. The conversation most people avoid having with a suicidal person is the conversation that could save their life: directly asking them if they’re suicidal. It’s okay to ask someone if they’re suicidal. Most of the time, you’ll get an honest answer. If they’re thinking about suicide, they’ll tell you. That opens the door for a deeper conversation that just might save their life.
While it’s helpful to ask someone if they’re suicidal, there are things you should avoid saying. For example, if you suspect a friend is suicidal, don’t say something like, “you’re not thinking about doing something stupid, are you?” A statement like that will immediately shut them down and they won’t talk to you openly. Suicidal people need to talk about what’s going on for them honestly and openly, without being judged. That includes the ability to talk freely about why they’re feeling suicidal without feeling like you think they’re stupid.
People become suicidal for a variety of reasons
There are many reasons a person can feel suicidal. They might have clinical depression, be addicted to a substance, feel deep shame for being convicted of a crime. Finally there’s the issue of sexual abuse. It’s important to recognize these factors immediately in diagnosing if a person is suicidal or not. Regardless of the reason, all suicidal people need to be heard. If you’re going to help someone, be open to listening to them talk about their reasons for thinking about suicide without judging or trying to fix them. It can be scary having such open conversations with someone, but it’s absolutely necessary. Asking if someone is suicidal isn’t suggesting suicide. Data actually suggests that having open conversations with people about suicide can decrease suicidal ideation.
Suicidal people don’t become suicidal by contagion
When Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain all committed suicide, people began to wonder if being suicidal was contagious. Some studies do show a rise in suicides after a celebrity suicide, many of which are done in the same manner. In 2014, the U.S. saw a 10% rise in suicides (2,000 people) within four months after Robin Williams took his life. These suicides are dubbed “copycat suicides” as if people decide to kill themselves on a whim just because their favorite celebrity did. The truth is, those people were suicidal to begin with. A more likely scenario is those people were already feeling hopeless, and watching one of their favorite celebrities give up the fight made them want to give up, too.
Movies have the ability to deeply influence people
Movies have been used to influence people for decades. Documentaries are made specifically to garner support for social causes and many are highly successful. Movies can be made to influence people in any direction. When produced responsibly, movies and TV programs have the potential to influence suicidal people to seek help rather than give up on life. It makes sense to use movies to reach people who are thinking about suicide. It might be someone’s only hope.
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