13 Real Reasons Why Someone Considers Suicide
There’s been a lot of talk about the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which chronicles the events which lead up to a young woman’s suicide. I’ll keep this introduction spoiler-free, but once we hit the numbered list there will be spoilers. If you haven’t watched it, please keep in mind that 13 Reasons Why is a massively triggering show, especially for those who are struggling. I recommend that you do not watch this show unless you are at a safe and stable place in your life, because the images and themes depicted are graphic. Several of our volunteers are still processing the show because of the weight of the material. If there is any doubt about your personal ability to watch the show, don’t do it.
With that said, the show had a host of pros and cons. One of the major criticisms I have of the show is that the idea of having 13 concrete reasons why someone decided to take their life was unrealistic. So here is my list: thirteen real reasons why someone considers suicide.
1. Mental Illness
I’m disappointed that not once throughout the entire season was mental illness discussed or addressed, especially since 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable illness at the time of death. Many people have misconceptions about what mental illnesses are. Much like our body can get physical wounds that need to be treated, we can develop mental wounds from bullying, fighting, or feeling lonely. We treat these wounds with self-care or by seeing our doctor. Without treatment, our wounds can become “infected” and turn into depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental illnesses.
It’s so important to note that mental illness can be treated, and suicide never has to be the answer.
Bullying is one of the main themes of 13 Reasons Why and plays heavily in Hannah’s mental wounds. Hannah did not seek treatment, and her wound became infected and she was clearly depressed throughout the show. It is important to note however that suicide is never the result of one wound, even bullying. While bullying absolutely increases the risk for suicide, it is downright unfair and inaccurate for Hannah Baker to blame those thirteen individuals for her death. Hannah recovered quickly from some of her initial bullying wounds, often showing great maturity. It wasn’t until Hannah believed she had no one to confide in that the bullying truly began to take a toll.
3. Substance Use
Substance use and addictions are another prominent theme in the show and are another high-risk factor for risk of suicide. Substance use does two main things to the user: firstly, it impairs judgement, and secondly, it creates a feeling of loss of control. Both of these are significant risk factors for someone who is struggling. Jessica was a great example of the dangers of using alcohol as a coping mechanism. She began to suffer socially and academically because of her use (among other things). She had to drink increasingly more in order to cope with her doubt about the rape and the fear of the tapes, putting her at increased risk of suicide or mental illnesses.
Along with the trauma of suicide, 13 Reasons Why did not hesitate to tackle other difficult topics such as rape and family violence. In fact, it appears that the rape was Hannah’s “final straw” – sure, she had been struggling up until that point, but she seemed to hold herself together for the most part. She cut her hair and was determined for a fresh start. She had hope. It was after the rape that she describes already “feeling dead,” and when she felt that the school counselor could not help, she lost the belief that things might get better.
Again, it is important to note that trauma alone does not guarantee that someone will consider suicide, but we do know that trauma definitely increases the risk.
5. The Belief that Nothing Will Get Better
This is a big one. As mentioned before, Hannah had hope for most of the season. Even when things went bad, she always had an outlet. Oftentimes the outlet was hanging out with Clay. She even made the decision for a “fresh start,” cut her hair, and wanted to focus on being better.
People don’t actually want to die. Even if someone is suicidal, it is because they have found themselves in a hopeless place. When someone believes that things will never get better, suicide starts to seem like “a way out”. Please hear me: suicide is not a way out. There is always a way out of your pain that does not involve hurting yourself or anyone else.
6. All-or-Nothing Thinking
This is a common error in thinking and reasoning. Hannah shows this errant thinking when she decides that she was going to reach out once to one person and if that didn’t work, she would go through with her plan. The reality is that she had so many resources surrounding her that she didn’t utilize. Her parents clearly loved her and she had teachers that she obviously felt comfortable opening up to.
This happens a lot in real life, too. Just because Mr. Porter did not handle the situation in the best way does not mean that all school counselors are inept. The trick with therapy or counseling is that you need to find someone who “clicks” with you. I desperately wish Hannah would have reached out to more help.
7. The Belief that You’re a Burden
Clay’s tape probably broke my heart more than any of the others. To Hannah, Clay was the one good person in Hannah’s life. He didn’t handle every situation perfectly because no one is perfect, but Hannah knew that Clay was a good person who genuinely cared about her. You might think this would be enough to stick around, but Hannah showed a classic symptom of suicidality – the belief that the people around her would be better off without her.
I think Clay’s reaction is exactly what is needed in that moment. He was so devastated that Hannah believed she would ruin him, when he wanted nothing more than to be with her. He was angry, he was hurt, he blamed himself for not being good enough to save her or brave enough to tell her how he felt.
Hannah mentions in one episode how humans are a social species, we need contact and interaction with others in order to thrive. This is 100% true – humans are not meant to live in isolation and loneliness.
The interesting thing about depression and mental illness is this sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that tends to happen. When someone is depressed or thinking about suicide, they believe they are a burden to others, thus they shut people out and push them away. But then they feel that they are all alone, even though they are the one that pushed everyone away. It’s a symptom of an illness. What happened to Clay is a classic example of someone pushing others away “for their own good” while still feeling deep seated loneliness.
9. Having No Outlets
I really appreciated the conversation that Clay’s dad had with him regarding outlets. He revealed that he himself dealt with bullying but always had an outlet to let off steam and feel like he was part of something. This is absolutely critical to maintaining mental health. We see that as long as Hannah had a friend or an outlet, she actually coped relatively well with the stuff happening to her. It wasn’t until she felt like she had no one left, nowhere to go, and nowhere to fit in did life start taking a toll.
Simply finding an outlet – a club, a team, an extracurricular, etc. – is a lot easier said than done, but it is so important for maintaining that human connection.
10. Keeping Secrets
One of the major themes of 13 Reasons Why is the need to keep Hannah’s (and the others’) secrets. I speak with a lot of teens who want nothing more than to keep their personal lives away from meddling parents and adults. I totally understand wanting people to stay out of your business.
However, the secrets slowly ate away at the people who were keeping them. As the series goes on, we see well-intentioned characters begin to doubt themselves. Tony brings the recordings to Hannah’s parents. Jessica needed to learn the truth to start to heal from her rape, and we see that Justin trying to “save her” by keeping secrets backfires miserably.
The lesson to learn here is that if someone is being hurt or is in danger, we need to tell that secret. Never keep it a secret if you know someone is in danger to themselves or anyone else.
One thing that is not realistic at all about Hannah’s story is the way she made the tapes. As I watched, I noticed the switch from depression to suicidality didn’t really happen until the night of the rape. Within a week, she escalated through all four stages of suicidal ideation. Her carefully crafted 13 reasons recorded on audio tape, however, is largely unrealistic.
Suicide is more often an impulsive decision rather than something so planned. Suicide has visible warning signs, but as a real suicide attempt survivor, Jordan, discusses it wasn’t until a bad encounter with his parents that he made the split-second decision to attempt suicide. This is why it is so important to get help immediately if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, because the decision to enact that plan could be an impulsive one.
12. Seeing triggering material
Seeing or hearing about suicide in an irresponsible way can encourage others to make a suicide attempt. This is a reason why so many well-intentioned people are afraid to discuss suicide. They believe it is better to not talk about it at all than to take this risk. However, when difficult topics such as suicide are discussed in a responsible way, it can actually lessen the likelihood for death. The trick is knowing how to responsibly handle the conversation.
I am disappointed to say that I do not feel 13 Reasons Why responsibly handled the conversation and depiction of suicide. One of my biggest concerns is that I believe that individuals who are hurting and watch the on-screen suicide will relate with Hannah Baker and potentially attempt suicide themselves.
Please, if you are suicidal, reach out to someone. The last thing we need is more people succumbing to the tragedy of suicide. Whatever is happening in your life, there is help for you. Reach out today using the resources below.
13. The perfect storm of risk factors
Ultimately, the point we want to make with this post is rather simple: suicide is never the result of one factor, nor is it the fault of specific individuals. Although it is natural to want to find a “reason” for why someone took their life, and circumstances affect one’s mental state, the reality is that suicide is most often the combination of risk factors rather than a specific reason.
NONE of the reasons on this list guarantees suicide on their own. But when you combine the perfect storm of risk factors, you can see how suicidal thoughts begin to form. There is a danger in Hannah pointing out her 13 reasons and pushing the blame on others. Truthfully, Hannah was the only one who could make the choice to live or die.
All in all, 13 Reasons Why started a very public conversation surrounding suicide, but unfortunately handled the topic in a dangerous and irresponsible way. I strongly caution individuals from watching this show and highly recommend that if you DO watch the show, you do it with the supervision of an adult you trust so that you can process each episode in a safe place.
If you’re hurting in any way, please reach out for help:
Call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or 1-800-SUICIDE for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Send a text to 741-741 for the National Crisis Text Line
Chat online at www.ImAlive.org or www.CrisisChat.org
Or talk to any trusted adult; a parent, teacher, counselor, or local support group