By Jamie Tworkowski
Right now, thousands of people are talking about the show 13 Reasons Why. We’ve heard stories of people asking for help for the first time, and stories of people who had to stop watching because the show was too triggering for them. We’ve heard from parents asking if we think the show is appropriate for their son or daughter. We’ve heard from people who loved the show, and we’ve heard from people who hated it.
13 Reasons Why is causing a significant number of individuals to think and talk about mental health, and many of them are thinking and talking about it for the first time. That’s a good thing.
The show is also being met with criticism because of the way it portrays sexual assault and suicide. The show is triggering and painful for a lot of people. That’s a bad thing.
If you struggle or have struggled with self-injury or thoughts of suicide, we would encourage you NOT to watch 13 Reasons Why. We’ve heard from many people who have chosen to avoid the show, and we applaud these folks who are choosing to prioritize their own recovery. We know this is a unique moment in pop culture, with so many people talking about 13 Reasons Why. You are certainly more important than pop culture, and we will always encourage you to put your recovery first.
We’ve heard from people who started watching but then at some point they had to stop because it was too painful. Others watched every episode but it left them with mixed feelings. If your heart is heavy after watching 13 Reasons Why, we’re sorry for the pain you experienced. Our hope would be that you have safe people who you can process your feelings with. Maybe that means friends, as a place to start. Maybe it means a parent or another adult you can be open and honest with. If you’re struggling to the point that you need more support than what a friend or family member can provide, please know that it’s okay to reach out to a mental health professional.
Speaking of mental health professionals, we know that the show doesn’t paint the best picture of counseling. The school counselor, who is not a licensed mental health counselor, certainly fumbles his meeting with Hannah in the final episode.
Well, at TWLOHA, we are huge fans of counseling. Most of our team, we’ve either been to counseling or we continue to go to counseling. We know some great ones, men and women who have devoted a big part of their lives to helping people navigate the hardest parts of their stories. We believe that for folks who are struggling, connecting with a licensed mental health counselor can be the decision that changes their life. We meet people who say they’re still alive because they decided to start seeing a counselor.
If you’re a parent who is concerned about how to talk to your son or daughter, our advice would be to talk to them. If you don’t know what to say, maybe you start there. It’s important that your child knows you love them, that they know they’re not alone, and that they feel invited to speak openly and honestly about their feelings and their pain. As for you, the parent, it’s okay for you to ask questions. It’s okay to admit what you don’t know. It’s also important to create an environment where family members feel safe, and where asking for help is something that is encouraged at any age.
While we wish that the creators of 13 Reasons Why would have been more careful in how they chose to tell the story, we are thankful for the good that is coming as a result of this story being told. We’re glad people are talking about mental health and suicide. If you’ve decided the show is not for you because you don’t want to risk being triggered, we support you as you pursue your recovery. If you watched and you felt triggered, we support you as you process those feelings. If you watched it and you feel the show helped you in some way, we support you. If you’re a parent and you’re doing your best to love your son or daughter, we support you. We’re all in this together.
As i watched the final episode, in which Hannah makes the heartbreaking decision to end her life, i wished she could have known how special she was. Known that she was brilliant and beautiful and loved and deserving of love — that her whole life was ahead of her, a life very much worth living. i wished Hannah had a support system, friends she could lean on and cry with, and professional help to guide her to healing.
As folks around the world continue to debate and discuss this fictional story, we hope you will remember that your true story is truly important. The things we hoped for Hannah, we hope them now for you — that your story would be rich with characters who know and love you, who fight for you instead of fighting you, people who remind you that you’re priceless.
Life is worth living. The best is yet to come. Let’s keep going.
Jamie Tworkowski is a New York Times best selling author and founder of To Write Love on Her Arms.