The Reason the World is Watching ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’
April 26th, 2017 / By: Julia J. Sadler / comments
The New York Times best-selling book turned Netflix series “Thirteen Reasons Why,” a story about suicide and the real pressures of high school life, has turned into an overnight national phenomenon. Why is this series catching the attention of parents, teachers, teenagers and pretty much everyone? While the series has many critics, it has one main attraction—“Thirteen Reasons Why” is the most accurate show on television.
As a licensed professional counselor who presents suicide prevention programs in public and private schools, I can tell you that, unfortunately, this show depicts the struggles many of our teenagers are facing. Personally, I went into the show ready to be a critic, ready to dismantle it for romanticizing suicide and for depicting dark images and ideas.
However, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming accuracy of this show. Research tells us that 1 in 6 women are sexually abused and 5,000 teenagers in the United States attempt suicide daily, which means our high schools are filled with Hannah Bakers (the story’s protagonist who commits suicide).
Of course, there are many reasons not to watch this show, but I want to focus on my number one concern I have with it. Surprisingly, the number one issue is not suicide; it’s a victim mentality.
Victim mentality is different from being a victim. Without a doubt, people are victims of assault, abuse and other horrible acts for which they are in no way responsible. Victim mentality does not necessarily have anything to do with being the object of a crime. Victim mentality is letting other people rule your life or, in Hannah Baker’s case, letting other people ruin your life. While this idea can sound harsh, it is the reason Hannah Baker’s character and millions of other people take their own lives.
I remember counseling a suicidal 20-year-old girl who was a complete puzzle to me. I could not figure out why this beautiful and talented young woman with her whole life ahead of her was suicidal. Finally, she said to me, “I want to commit suicide because I want my dad to know how badly he hurt me when he sexually abused me.” That is the suicidal delusion that many teenagers and adults believe—that because of what has happened in their lives, their lives are over.
Many suffering people believe they are the only ones—the only ones being bullied, the only ones being sexually abused, the only ones without friends. And when people believe they are alone, they feel hopeless.
But the truth is that our lives are never completely hopeless, never beyond repair, and never beyond redemption because God is big enough to redeem and restore even the worst parts of our lives. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph had the ultimate chance to confront his brothers who sold him into slavery and left him for dead, and his response was not to leave cassette tapes for all his brothers to listen to so they could be punished. Instead, Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.”
In evaluating “Thirteen Reasons Why,” we must remember the reason it is a hit show—countless numbers of people are hurting and tempted to commit suicide every minute. We must stop letting other people ruin and even take our lives. We must open our eyes to the nationwide epidemic and reality of suicide.
Julia Jeffress Sadler serves as the Girls Ministry Director at First Baptist Church in Dallas and is a licensed professional counselor, specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm. She is also a National Board Certified Counselor.