I recently watched the show “13 Reasons Why.” I have read over a lot of articles from fellow therapists and other mental health experts expressing their concern over the content, messages, meta-messages, and graphic depictions shown in the series and many of them I agree with.
For those who are not aware of the show, please use caution before watching it. I encourage you to do research before watching it and certainly before allowing your teenager to watch it.
The show depicts and attempts to explain the suicide of a high school girl named Hannah Baker.
Photo courtesy of forbes.com
In the show (which was created from the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher), a high schooler named Clay gets a shoe box with cassette tapes in it. The tapes are recordings by Hannah, a classmate and Clay’s crush, explaining why and how people who interacted with her contributed to her decision to commit suicide.
My personal reaction was mixed. I got caught up in the drama and suspense of wanting to know what happened, but also could recognize that I was having dreams about the show which can point to the fact that I may have been triggered by the events depicted. The show in my opinion can be described in one word:
As the plot lines unfolded, I became brutally aware of the difficult world in which teenagers are growing up.
As a therapist, it is important to me that people who watch the series understand the magnitude of suicide and suicide awareness especially in teenagers. I want people to understand that suicide is a personal choice and no one can make that decision or even help make that decision for someone who is suicidal. (For additional information visit this site).
There is another side to this, however.
This show is depicting the power of a system.
A system can be defined in many ways, but as a therapist, I see a system as those people and sometimes things surrounding each of us.
An easy way to think of a system is to think of a school. The immediate school system is comprised of teachers, faculty members like the nurse and counselor, and students. Then there are all of these other forces that impact the school, like the parents of the students, the school district, state laws, sometimes the police department, etc. The other forces are considered a part of the system as well because they directly impact the immediate school system. For example, if a parent cannot get their student into school, that impacts the student, teacher, possibly the district.
“13 Reasons Why” depicts a subsystem of the school. It shows the power of the messages sent between people within a school and then the power of outside influences as well. All of these factors: students bullying each other, drugs and alcohol, teachers and counselors seeing signs of depression and suicidality but not knowing what to do with it, a lawsuit against the school for the suicide of a student, financial burdens of parents, domestic violence occurring at home, the list goes on…all of these factors impact the system and each individual in the system.
I think the television show did an excellent job at scratching the surface of the impact each individual had from a tragedy in which they had a role simply because they are a part of the school system and its subsystem.
The beautiful thing about systems is that it can never be one person’s fault and the hard part about systems is there may not be justice. The justice that can be sought is from understanding a system and learning how to change how it operates. A systems therapist, like a Marriage and Family Therapist is trained in seeing, describing, prescribing, and intercepting the patterns that occur. Maybe if more schools or even businesses would hire MFT’s to come in to figure out the negative patterns, less people would get hurt or killed.
What I am taking away from the show is that the problem is very big and we EACH have a role in the problem/s that occur within schools. I want to try to make a difference where I can and that starts with my clients who are in high school or who have high schoolers. I am also taking away the idea that systems work is crucial in helping people, even though it is incredibly complex.
Let’s not be silent anymore because the system keeps rolling with or without us.