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13 Reasons Why: Tell Netflix to Stop Risking Lives

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The last time suicide struck my family was five months ago. I lost four loved ones to suicide within a short time, starting with the loss of my sister. She died February 26, 2015. She left behind a daughter who turned eleven this month. I keep her in mind as I write this. 

"Thirteen Reasons Why" is a novel written by Jay Asher. Common Sense Media describes it as a "disturbing suicide novel” which “examines bullying and indifference." The book was published October 18, 2007. Four years later, it topped the New York Times best-seller list. Recently, it became the latest Netflix top hit in less than a month, making suicide a viral sensation. 

I know a thing or two about suicide contagion. When I was a teenager in high school, a fellow student took his life. My classmates and I were left wondering why.  I compared the pain in his life to mine and wondered why I was still alive. Like one in five high school students, I had a diagnosable mental health disorder and struggled with suicidal ideation. While his suicide is not what caused me to want to kill myself, it clouded my mind so much that I couldn’t think of a good reason not to take my own life. So, I attempted.

Netflix has given teenagers around the world thirteen reasons to kill themselves, thirteen reasons to blame themselves for their suicide losses, and neglected to consider that not all of us have voices in our lives that remind us why we should fight to stay alive.  

Years later, after my sister died, I found myself asking the same question: "Why?" I blamed myself. When 13 Reasons Why hit the limelight, even though I knew better than to expose myself to the graphic and intense depiction of suicide, even though I knew it would trigger my grief, I forced myself to watch. I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I’ll be honest, it didn’t take long for me to turn it off.

All I could see and all I could hear was my sister. As tears filled my eyes, I thought of her daughter and wondered if my voice on social media was going to impact her life. I wondered if she was watching. She’s so advanced for her age, this seems like a show she might watch. If not, it is only a matter of time.

If she started to think about her mom, if she started down the same grief-stricken path I did, would she have the strength to turn it off? Would it get her thinking about suicide? Not in the healthy and productive way that makes some teenagers reach out to their parents and say, “Hey, I just watched a really upsetting show. Can we talk about it?” Rather, in a way that would make her wonder, like I did in high school, if there is any point to living at all. I don’t know what I would do, what her family would do, if she killed herself.

I’m coming to you to ask you to speak out and stand up for every person who cannot turn the show off. I’m asking you to stand up and defend every teenager who doesn’t have a supportive adult in their life paying attention to the shows they watch.

Corporations such as Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and The Mighty have stepped up to offer tips and support for parents and teens who watch 13 Reasons Why. They’ve acted to speak out against airing suicide through celebrity-tinted camera lenses. They’ve raised awareness amid the hype. But it isn’t enough.

While educated professionals and national Media Reporting Guidelines are screaming the dangers, teenagers around the world are tuning in to watch. When their browser lands on, they are greeted with the show’s artistic cover surrounded by Finding Dory and seven other animated family films; the deadly risks hidden by red carpet and profit.

When children cannot protect themselves, it is our job, as adults, to protect them! I come to you as a bereaved suicide loss survivor, a suicide attempt survivor, an aunt, but mostly, as a mom. We know the risks of recklessly throwing suicide around on social media. Let us rise to show how the power of social media can help minimize the risks of suicide attempt and loss.

With awareness comes great responsibility. Tell Netflix to turn the show OFF.

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