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13 Reasons Why Not

I just recently heard about the new Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" which is a show that discusses the details of the suicide of a young teenage girl:

What is it about 13 Reasons Why?

Teen suicide is not a new topic for pop culture, from ABC’s 1986 afterschool special A Desperate Exit to the Tony-nominated Dear Evan Hansen. The cult-favorite film The Virgin Suicides is about five teen sisters who kill themselves. One Tree Hill and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have included episodes on the subject. Young adult novels from Jodi Picoult's The Pact to By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters to the original Thirteen Reasons Why novel by Jay Asher.

But there's been a sizable uproar around the Netflix adaptation of Asher's 2007 work about teenage Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who commits suicide and leaves behind tapes for the people she says are the “reasons” she did it. The show has been the subject of warning emails from schools, complaints from mental health professionals and concerns from parents — all the while gaining popularity on social media.

The show's approach to suicide has also contributed to the backlash. “I think the fact that the storyline starts out with her already having taken her life is part of the setup for the problem,” says Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Those moments where we know prevention and intervention can really save lives (are left out).”

The depiction of the suicide has been called out by some mental health professionals as potentially dangerous. Moutier cited concerns about social contagion and copycat suicides because the episode shows the act in such specific detail. Swathi Krishna of Morehouse School of Medicine, who has written about the show for the American Psychiatric Association, has additional concerns about the scene, suggesting it romanticizes suicide.

“It doesn’t portray the suicide scene as painful,” she says. “They make it look almost peaceful. That’s so disturbing to me.”

You don’t really know what’s in people’s heads. So people can think that (committing suicide) is easy,” she adds. “It kind of gives people examples of what to do in a bad way.”

Critics of the show have also pointed out that it ignores mental illness as a factor in suicide, and focuses on Hannah's tormenters as the primary cause of her suicide.

I thought about this show as I read an article in our local paper about three students taking their own lives, two in the past month:

Three Farragut High School students have committed suicide this semester, including two within the past month, prompting Knox County Schools officials to schedule a meeting Thursday for parents to air their concerns and discuss a plan for moving forward.

Dozens of students gathered in the school's parking lot Monday night in remembrance of the latest victim, a senior who, according to a Knox County Sheriff's Office incident report, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his truck Friday night near Anchor Park in West Knox County.

The USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee has chosen not to identify the victims.

The death followed the suicide of a Farragut High School sophomore less than three weeks earlier. Another Farragut sophomore took his own life in January.

The paper calls these suicide victims students, I wonder if they were male. One story here indicates that at least one is:

Keith Schultz' 15-year-old son, Spencer Schultz, a sophomore, died Jan. 11, the first of three student suicides that have shaken Farragut and spurred questions from students and parents about the school district's handling of the crisis. He said he wished the schools' response would have come sooner.

I wonder how much of the increased suicide rate for teens is due to males of that age having issues that no one cares about? Society rarely cares about the emotional lives of men at any age. It's always about girls and women. Even with all the men killing themselves, it is usually a girl or woman's story that is told. Same with 13 Reasons Why. The main character who kills herself is female.

What we need to remember is that in order to reduce completed suicides (men and boys choose more fatal methods), we need to address the problems of men and boys in this society. Until we are willing to do that, we will not see a significant decrease in suicidal behavior given all that is going on in today's tumultuous world.

And as for Netflix having a show about a girl committing suicide and glamorizing it? I have 13 Reasons (or more) why they should not: It is detrimental to the mental health of kids in our country and in our communities. Say that 13 times.

But the real problem is isolated boys who are getting little or no mental health treatment or treatment that is inadequate. It is a society that sweeps the problems of boys and men under the rug and then wonders why so many decide that life is not worth living. Or worse, the society itself creates the problems for men and boys with its hatred and disdain for all things masculine. If you want to help change the suicide rate, talk to a boy you know or love or both and fight for him the way you would fight for women and girls--at school, in the community and in the society at large.

To do less is to leave open the possibility of a tragedy like suicide--especially for those boys who have depression or other mental illness. No family should have to go through the pain of a teen suicide; our kids deserve better.