Sunday, April 30, 2017

I think I need to watch "13 Reasons Why"...

Some time ago, I cancelled our Netflix subscription.  I mainly did that because Netflix was forcing me to use the German version of its service and there wasn't enough content to justify paying for something I never used.  The German version did have stuff in English, but the selection was not as good as it is in the States.  Granted, it was only about $9 a month, but it was the principle of the matter.

Yesterday, I came across an article about the Netflix show "13 Reasons Why".  Psychiatrist Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY that the show should be yanked immediately.  It seems the doctor fears that it will give teenagers the bright idea to commit suicide.  He claims that teenage suicide is "contagious" and that many kids will watch a show about suicide and try it themselves.  He fears that the "attractive" people on the show will glamorize it and make impressionable young people decide that suicide is cool.  Netflix did not respond to Dr. Koplewicz's concerns.

The show is about a girl who leaves tapes revealing thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life.  The reasons range from bullying to rape to underage drinking.  I shared TODAY's article about the psychiatrist's comments and several friends opined about it.  The vast majority of people have said the show is excellent.  Some of my friends who are parents have said they've watched the show with their kids and it's led to good discussions about the issues young people face.

As someone who has suffered from major depression and struggled with suicidal ideation, I think this show could be very important in getting people to talk about mental illness.  The subject is still so very taboo and there's a lot of ignorance about subjects like depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Dr. Koplewicz says that "suicide is not a solution."  Actually, I would beg to differ with that statement.  It IS a solution for the person exiting the world prematurely.  When you're dead, you're dead.  There are no more problems for you.  However, to get to the point at which you'll have no more problems, you have to give up your life.  Giving up a life that feels miserable may not seem so bad, although when you do commit suicide, you will very likely leave devastation in your wake.  Aside from that, there is an excellent chance that the feelings that make you want to die will eventually pass, especially if you're still just a teen and dealing with all of the changes that come during that time.  After many years of suffering, depression did pass for me, although I will admit that it took several years of taking medication and support from a good therapist.

I can remember the late 90s as a time when I seriously couldn't fathom living out the rest of my life.  I  usually felt giddy with excitement, anxious to the point of wanting to throw up, or profoundly sad and hopeless.  I felt like I was stuck in a trap and had no chance of freeing myself.  I had parents who, I know, would be very sad if I killed myself.  But they were not very helpful or supportive to me at that time.  Their brand of "help" was of the tough love variety, with lots of pressure to "snap out of it" and plenty of shaming.  There were a few times when they seemed concerned about me, but mostly they treated me like a huge burden.  And I knew I was a burden to them, but I couldn't figure out how to make it better.  So yes, during that time, I often thought about ending it.  I figured I'd finally lose those feelings of hopelessness and despair and they'd get their spare room back.

I couldn't imagine finding the money to pay for graduate school.  The idea of taking on more debt, gambling on the idea that more school would propel me into a career, was terrifying for me.  I couldn't imagine being able to find and afford an apartment of my own, knowing that I didn't want a roommate after my years in college.  I hated my job.  I had few friends and no love interest.  I didn't see that changing.  I didn't see how it could.

But then I finally went to a therapist and a psychiatrist.  The therapist talked to me about my problems and the psychiatrist-- who was a jerk, but thankfully was also very competent-- found the right medications to help me clear my thinking and make some decisions.  Four days after I started taking Wellbutrin, I felt like a completely different person.  I woke up one morning and decided I needed to reclaim my life and move on.  And, by God, that's exactly what I did.

Of course, all of that extra schooling didn't pay off the way I thought it would, but I haven't felt suicidal or extremely depressed in many years.  I rarely cry anymore.  I do still suffer from a lot of anxiety, but it doesn't paralyze me as much as it used to.  When I was younger, people seriously thought I was crazy.  I remember one guy in high school used to call me "psycho" all the time.  I laughed with him, but he was one of many people who thought I was nuts.  I can read inscriptions in my high school yearbooks and see people referring to my depression... or to my extreme silliness.  One person flat out said she thought I was "okay" sometimes, but seriously thought I had a mental problem (and crazily enough, we are friends today).  I'm sure many people who knew me in Armenia thought I was nuts, too, which is a shame.

Luckily, my depressive side was always balanced with a very funny side.  When I was feeling suicidal, the funny side won out and I didn't do anything drastic.  But I definitely thought about it... a lot.  It would have been helpful to have been able to talk frankly about this with people who cared.  The few times I did talk about it, my parents would say something along the lines of "we know you won't do anything stupid."  Or they would accuse me of trying to manipulate them.  I will admit, when they said things like that, I did have fleeting thoughts of offing myself just to spite them.

Good sense prevailed and I sucked it up and drove on.  But not everyone has the ability to  just "suck it up".  I have a hard time judging people who feel suicidal.  I have been there myself and I understand the temptation.  Most of all, I just think that this is a subject more people need to discuss openly and frankly.  If it takes a Netflix series to accomplish that end, so be it.  Maybe there is a risk that some impressionable and depressed teenager will watch "13 Reasons Why" and think suicide is the answer.  But someone who is in that state could be triggered by many different things.  If it's not a show on Netflix, it'll be something else.  Avoiding the issue and pulling TV shows off Netflix are not going to change that reality.


  1. I can't judge anyone for feeling that way, either.

    1. I was surprised by how many people opined about this.


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