The only way 13 Reasons Why could be acceptable

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13 Reasons Why is the new kid on the outrage block, the Netflix book-to-small-screen drama of Hannah Baker, 17, who takes her own life.
The US producers make the grandiose claim that it unflinchingly, yet conveniently, packages up “some of the really difficult things that teenagers actually go through”. All in a nice Hollywood bow too. But it offers no road map on how to talk to young people about suicide. That will be your job if your kids watch it or you choose to view it with them. Both have happened in our household.
Ignorance or distance is not an ­option. It’s already a talking point for Aussie kids who are Snapchatting, Facetiming and obsessing over both its gore and posturing. There have been calls from primary and high school teachers urgently requesting help, according to headspace’s ­national school support service development manager Kristen Douglas. Children as young as 11 are distressed by the show, we’re told.
But if a TV drama really wanted to help our precious kids, it would create a 13 Reasons Why Not and show this teen girl as a survivor who sought help because help for mental health does exist and it does work. As it turns out, the 13 Reasons Why story instead goes something like this:
Beautiful but broken Baker from a middle-America town is bullied, harassed, raped and ostracised. The adults in her life, the parents and teachers, are seen to carry on regardless, stuck in the selfish quicksand of their own issues. Not even slightly dissuaded by anyone to abandon her deadly plan, Baker’s epitaph is cassette recordings for 13 people she says are to blame, each in their own unique way, for why she killed herself.
Her exit and choice of death is brutal and spectacularly unhelpful. The sting in 13’s bloodied tale is the utterly terrifying revenge theme it wraps like a cosy blanket around the prickly, devastating and multifaceted issue that is teen suicide.
The series feeds kids a one-dimensional view: kindness can fix anyone but there was no kindness for Baker so she “got her own back” from ­­beyond the grave. What a neat little solution: If you get hurt in life by people, you can damn them forever by having the final, non-arguable say by killing yourself. Except, it is no solution at all.
Suicide happens to normal people who feel overwhelmed by their circumstances. If you unpack that and let it out, people can help you — 13 Reasons Why gives that the cricket’s treatment. In a pivotal scene with her distracted school counsellor, Baker is all but spelling out “I am going to kill myself” while he wheels out the pop psychology and plays with a vibrating phone.
Ask any teen who they confide in and it is usually their peers. The show offers no modelling of young people supporting each other and that is diabolical. Instead it serves up guilt for those left behind as a side dish in every episode, says Jaelea Skehan, a youth suicide expert who heads the Mindframe team at The Hunter Institute of Mental Health.
“It is not uncommon for teens to be in despair but life does change, ­moments do pass,” she says. ­“It can be quite a powerful message to see people reaching out and getting that support if there is no reason or 100 reasons to feel the way they do.”
In a statement about the series, Ms Skehan added: “With Hannah’s voice echoing throughout the series, it is almost like she is watching this unfold.
“But the harsh reality is that Hannah will not get to see or witness ­people’s reactions at all.”
For Australians aged 15 to 24 years, suicide is the leading cause of death compared to chronic illness.
In January, Lifeline said a spate of suicides in the NSW town of Grafton was a “national emergency” — 11 lost souls in 12 months.
The pain doesn’t go with the dead teens, it stays with the families. TV shows, movies, YouTube skits and any social media are burdened with the responsibility of encouraging our kids to recognise when things aren’t right and to seek effective, professional help. Leave your humiliation and awkwardness at the front door ­because your life matters.
13 Reasons Why is a lost opportunity — and one we as mums and dads have to mop up. If you’ve ever been a teenager, you will remember the few years that you hated your parents (at least you thought you did) because you were certain they were out to ruin your life.
Age and experience shows us that this feeling passes for most of us and, if we are blessed with insight, we might even reach the conclusion that there was a lot of assumption and little evidence during those tumultuous years. So when do we get our voice? What Hollywood mogul will stand up for the people Baker left behind?
Last month, grieving Melbourne mother Kate McLoughlin released footage from the eulogy she delivered at her son Zach’s funeral just 12 months ago.
Her beautiful 19-year-old son took his own life in March 2016, without a single warning sign. McLoughlin didn’t mince her words.
“We are here today because of a choice that Zach made,” she told mourners. “A bad choice… This trend has to stop.”
On her Facebook page she writes: “Thank you, especially, to YOU who opened your heart & mind to my message & discovered an inner strength that made YOU want to live. I commend you on your bravery. I ­admire your strength for keeping up your fight & being here today.
“Suicide is never the answer. It leaves nothing but unimaginable pain. Please share your struggles. Please know there is help.
“Your pain will pass. Keep up your fight, one day @ a time… you are not defined by your troubles. I wish you peace of heart & mind.”
This should be the message of 13 Reasons Why. Shamefully in Hollywood terms, young lives do not ­matter enough.

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