Over the last few years, there has been an increase in mental health visibility in television, movies, and social media. People have been more open about their own experiences with mental illness, and there has been an increase in the representation of suicide and mental health on television and movies. I believe that this is a significant step forward to de-stigmatizing and normalizing mental illness.
One show that tore down barriers and was a big step in suicide representation was “13 Reasons Why”, which was met with controversy and resistance. For those who have not watched the show, it is terrible. I don’t mean terrible as in it was poorly written or the actors weren’t very talented. I am referring to the fact that it is a raw depiction of suicide that captures the intensity and terribleness of taking one’s own life. This television series is a straight-forward, honest, and painful representation of suicide. As mentioned earlier, this television show is deemed by many to be controversial and inappropriate for its target audience. However, it is meant to bring awareness to the factors leading up to suicide in youth, such as bullying, ostracization, or sexual assault. The purpose of this series is to inspire dialogue amongst others so individuals can reach out for help, recognize warning signs of suicide, or be supportive towards others who are struggling.
We are currently in a cultural shift where advocates are working towards the destigmatization of mental illnesses, which also includes discussing suicide openly amongst each other and in our media. Nevertheless, with this shift, there is also apprehension and opposition because it is ingrained in us that we should not be talking about suicide, let alone see it on television. There is a fear that if it is discussed or exposed to others, then we may inspire the idea in someone else and they will be more likely take their life, which is not true.
It is necessary to mention that as our media begins to introduce these topics, there is still a long way to go. More often than not, television shows and films can miss the point when it comes to getting the proper help and support or how to begin the necessary conversation when acknowledging suicide. The mere depiction of suicide in our media is not enough on its own. Therefore, there is a need for more discussion and awareness present in our media regarding mental illness and symptoms, finding support, and accessing resources to be present. We are only at the beginning of the battle of de-stigmatization, and there is a long way to go before we get to where we need to be.
Given that suicide and mental health is a tricky topic to navigate through, it can feel as though there are so many Do’s and Don’t’s when talking to someone about it. If you’re not a mental health professional, it can feel like you’re walking on eggshells trying to have a conversation about suicide with someone else, but that’s okay, it is a tough topic. The best way to talk about suicide and mental illness with someone else is by being open and direct about it. It’s okay to ask someone if they are thinking about, or have thought about suicide because it creates an opportunity for a person to talk about what is going on for them. Additionally, listen to them, respect and validate their feelings, take what they say seriously, and get them the appropriate help and resources that they need (resources and websites are below).
Many of us are entering a new and unknown territory as we learn how to navigate a discussion about these difficult topics and it makes sense that it is met with resistance and uncertainty. However, it is important to note that this is one of the many reasons that we need media like “13 Reasons Why” that will make us cringe and feel uneasy, to bring light to the fact that we may be uncomfortable discussing these topics. What is still sometimes missing in the media, however, is the follow-up conversation needed after these difficult topics.
Clinical Director’s Note:
When this TV show came out there was a lot of controversy. In fact, in conversation with many of the leaders of the local mental health resources we even considered creating media titled, “13 Reasons Why Not,” because much of the response to the show seemed to be that the show glorified suicide, or certainly did not provide any of the needed conversations to follow up on this important topic.
Whatever our views are of this new sort of media and its’ appropriateness, it’s a reminder of the importance of having open, honest conversations with youth around suicide and mental health.
It’s a difficult conversation to have, and there are many local resources to help, including Alongside You. If we can be of help please let us know. Here’s a list of other resources in the community as well as larger resources across Canada and North America:
310 Mental Health Support: 310-6789
Alannah McIntee is the one of two new interns at Alongside You. Studying at Adler University she has a keen interest in working with kids and we’re excited to have her on board!