Suicide is a painful and complex topic. Losing a loved one is very painful and I can only imagine the anguish of losing someone due to suicide.
Last month my sons told me about this new Netflix series that was very much talked about in their circles entitled 13 Reasons Why. Curious, Marvin and I also watched it and we were both disturbed. It is based on a 2007 novel of the same title that talks about Hannah Baker, a high school student who committed suicide leaving seven tapes with 13 sides narrating the 13 reasons why she killed herself. The 13 reasons are 13 persons (actually just 12 but one person got a repeat performance in tape 9) who made her life too miserable that she decided to end it. These are all her schoolmates and their guidance counsellor.
The series produced by pop star Selena Gomez used very powerful storytelling techniques that kept the viewers glued and wanting more. According to the team behind the series, they wanted to bring about conversations on this sad reality of teenage suicide and bullying in school.
I am all for meaningful conversations and positive education (facilitated by expert adults) in order to combat this alarming rise in suicide but I have a problem with the way the story was tackled. It definitely gets an A in storytelling and commercial value because it became a hit, but I’m worried about the effect on the young minds who watched it and raved about it.
- There was no mention about mental illness at all. If you research on suicide, nearly all suicides are among individuals with mental illness such as depressive, bipolar and anxiety disorders, alcohol and other substance abuse, schizophrenia, psychosis and other personality disorders. Not to even mention mental illness in all 13 episodes is totally misleading and would never facilitate that meaningful conversation that the team had hoped for.
- Bullying is definitely a problem and could very well be that last switch to push someone to end it all but singling it out as the cause of suicide is not only unhelpful but could be harmful. It is suggesting to the kids out there that suicide is the natural response to being bullied. It takes away the focus from the main problem, which is the inability to address the illness.
- The dramatization and glorification of the character who committed suicide can lead to imitation especially among adolescents who are having suicidal ideation or even just bouts of depression. This is called the copycat suicide effect.
- There were no warnings during the first few episodes of the series that allowed many young kids to watch something that their young minds may not be capable of processing.
- What was the role of the parents? I grieve for parents who lose their children this way and honestly, I wouldn’t know how to handle it myself, but for sure, I would question my role in it. In the series (and in some true-to-life versions) the parents sue the school. Sometimes I wonder, “If parents can sue their children’s school for its accountability in the suicide, can’t the parents also be sued?” I still believe that if we were to start finger pointing on this matter, it is still the home more than the school that has a greater influence on our children’s problem solving skills and coping mechanism. Oftentimes I wonder, “If my child is so unhappy of the bullying happening in school, shouldn’t he ask me to just move him out of that school?”
- There was too much liberty given to children at a very young age in the series. Sometimes I wonder if kids in the US are really that impolite to their parents and teachers as depicted in their shows. Do they just take off once they don’t want to answer their parents’/teachers’ line of questioning? Are they really that disrespectful to authority? Is premarital sex really that rampant and that early? Is that how they hold parties when the parents are away? The prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain that is responsible for our rational thinking) is not fully developed until we are 25 years old, some even later. Before that part of the brain is fully developed, it is really the impulsive limbic system that is lording over our decision making. In fact, even for adults like me, the limbic system (the automatic system) still usually wins over the prefrontal system (the rational system) in instances of conflict between the two. So take note, before the full development of the pre-frontal cortex, we cannot even expect a person to be capable of a completely rational decision making, and yet we allow our kids such liberty?
- The role of spirituality. Whatever your belief is, it is difficult to deny the importance of spirituality in cases like suicide. Unlike how the series was played out, suicide is not just about external factors like being bullied, raped, etc., but it has a lot to do with what’s happening inside the person, her problem solving skills, coping mechanism and an inner belief in oneself and the force out there greater than her problems. It has a lot to do with faith and hope. While we were raising our children I remember having written in my letters to them that we will always try to support them and be there for them, but to remember that Papa and I were only human with weaknesses who may sometimes fail as parents; nonetheless, I reminded them to always turn to God for He will never fail them.
Suicide is a very serious problem that needs our attention. It is a cry for helplessness and hopelessness. Worldwide it ranks as the top 3 cause of death among those aged 15-44; and the second leading cause of death in the age bracket of 10-24, predominantly males except in China. Although the Philippines has a lower incidence of suicide estimated at 2 for every 100,000 compared to the world average of 16 for every 100,000, there is a rising trend. The importance of acknowledging the role of mental illness and educating ourselves so that society does not condemn it but treat it with compassion the same way as we would treat other health challenges, then maybe this senseless waste of life will be avoided.
As parents, caregivers and friends, we play a crucial role in preventing this. For today’s FQ Live! Episode 12 we will have seasoned Relationship and Parenting Consultant Maribel Dionisio, together with her colleague who is also a Family and Relationship Consultant Aiza Tabayoyong, as our guests to help us discuss this important matter. Join us on FQ Live! via FQ Mom FB page at noon today.
- Join me today as I discuss further the above topic with family counsellors Maribel Dionisio and Aiza Tabayoyong. PM us your questions.
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- I will speak at the “12th Puregold-Tindahan ni Aling Puring Sari-sari Store Convention” with the theme #PanalongPagbabago to be held on May 25, 2017 (Thursday), 1:30-2:30pm at the World Trade Center, Manila.
Rose Fres Fausto is a speaker and author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is a Behavioral Economist, Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.
ATTRIBUTIONS: Images from officialPSDs, recommended keyword, tuneFind, Netflix and yerleske-campus.info put together to help deliver the message.