This episode I am going to do something unpopular. I am going to discuss teen suicide. I am doing this for a variety of reasons. First I feel this is a very important issue, and I have personal experiences that are relevant. In doing this episode I am hoping to not only help any of you who may be listening to help open up these discussions more, but I am also helping myself. Many of things I am going to be talking about I have very rarely discussed openly with anyone, and I have certainly never talked about any of it publicly.
Before I get started I want to make the following warnings. First if you are a teenager or young adult, I am glad you are listening, but please do not do so alone. Have a close friend or parents with you while you listen. If you are going to be watching the Netflix series “13 Reasons why” The same advice applies. These are difficult topics and no matter how old you are I personally encourage you to not engage in them alone. If you find yourself going through some bad times, or feel lost or depressed or alone do not be, find someone, anyone you trust and discuss your feelings before during or after listening to this episode or watching the Netflix show I am discussing. If you have experienced a loss due to suicide or have these thoughts yourself please do not listen alone, and please contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you need help. 1-800-273-8255
This is a serious topic and do not delay if you think someone you know may be hurting. Learn how to be a friend
In this disclaimer portion of the show I want to clearly make the point that I do not wish to sound like I am hijacking these issues to promote atheism, or to promote my show. I have been personally impacted by suicide not only as having a family member kill themselves in front of me as a young child, but also having going through my own period of depression and struggling with suicide. My personal thoughts while going through this did have religious tones to it, and did involve the ideas of turning to drug use as an alternative method of suicide to allow my entry into heaven. My situation and my experiences are not typical. The only reason I mention this is to highlight the need for secular therapy and to leave personal religious ideology out of these discussions. This is a medical issue, this is a societal issue, this is an educational issue, and finally and most importantly this is humanist issue.
In this episode I am not going to only talk about my personal struggles I am going to go over information and news regarding suicide. As far as I am including my own personal stories into this, I went back and forth on this for a long time trying to decide if it was the right move. In coming to this decision, I decided to leave it in.
In particular I am going to be discussing the issues of suicide in Tennessee specifically. I know that Tennessee is not the only place that faces the problems of suicide, and I apologize up front if my focus on Tennessee in this episode in any way minimizes the effects of this topic in other places. Part of my goal on this podcast is to give the secular community in east Tennessee a voice, and in that pursuit many of the stories and information I share will be from here. I want to however highlight that no matter where you live this is a big issue and hopefully those not from here can take what we talk about and add it to their tool kit in discussions.
In Tennessee this has become a particularly contentious and difficult subject to approach. I have been personally effected by suicide and have that perspective. I have also done a lot of research into this topic, and with the recent controversy surrounding the new Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’ I feel a need to discuss this issue.
According to the Tennessee Suicide prevention network’s statistics suicide was the number 2 leading cause of death for the 10-14 age group and the 25-34 age group falling second only to the category of “unintentional injury”. Suicide was number 3 in the 15-24 age group. These statistics are from 2015, but are still alarming. The data shows that the rates continue to rise.
There are a number of risk factors that include mental health and changes in behaviors, and access to means( such as firearms in the home).
There is some much packed into what leads up to a person making this decision that there is not a simple catch all solution. And in my personal opinion we should not think in those terms. The all or nothing approach can cause us to miss out on real opportunities to address this issue and help slow these trends.
It is not necessarily an atheist issue, but as this show is titled Secular Ethos I am compelled to discuss anything that will show the moral character of the secular community. The audience I am attempting to reach is any secular humanists and that can include humanists of any worldview, so long as that worldview is superseded by humanism. When discussing suicide I find a worldview that discusses death as anything but final problematic. If you approach death with the idea of paradise or of eternal life after death, you are just smuggling in extra problems.
Finding comfort in the known helped me through my own struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide. In fact it was my belief in the afterlife that sent me down a path of drug use that I used as a loop hole to the whole suicides go to hell idea. I had went to a dark path as a teenager. I suffered from many of the common factors that lead teens into suicidal thoughts, but it was the idea of living in paradise forever that kept death on my mind and made my recovery take much longer than I think that it should have taken. After giving up on the sudden and dramatic ways of killing myself, I turned to drugs. I justified it as not really being suicide, so I could convince myself I could end it all a little slower and still get into heaven. Part of my confused and twisted mind at the time believed that since the drugs made me so euphoric and happy it had to be a gateway into heaven. I even got to experience a little of piece of heaven here on earth.
My story is not typical of teen suicides. I just would like to highlight one of the dangers of attempting a religious intervention or bringing religious ideologies into these discussions. Which gladly I have not found anyone doing that, or at least not overtly. **(include story about parents convincing child to stop medicine, by telling her about heaven)**
These are discussions that need to be had I am not in anyway trying to hijack such a horrible thing to promote atheism. I needed to share my personal experiences on this. For personal therapeutic reasons, it helps me to talk about these things from my past. As well as for reasons to highlight that I understand suicide. Not only did I struggle with suicidal tendencies I also experienced a family member committing suicide. It was more than experience I was witness to the event. It had such an impact on my life that going through my journals I was able to construct a fairly detailed recollection of the event. I pulled from entries from not only near the time of the event, but all throughout my life time.( well at least the portion of my life where I wrote in my journals.)
The compilation of my personal story uses a lot of mythological imagery. This is because it highlights the way in which I dealt with the complex emotions of my childhood. The story I am going to share at the end of this episode is not about my teen years and dealing with personal depression. The story is from the time when I witnessed the suicide of my stepfather.
This episode is not going to be all about me, though, I have put together a lot of information and news stories about the very heavy subject I am going to be discussing today. I tried to not just get a bunch of opinion pieces. I have some news events, but I also went to sources ranging from the American Psychiatric Association to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network and anything relevant in between.
I know this is a rather lengthy introduction, but do to the very sensitive nature of the topic I do not want to do it a disservice.
My notes from watching the series “13 Reasons Why”
My first impression is some type of emotional blackmail on the part of the girl Hannah. The idea of these tapes and the tone that they take sound like an empowerment based on making others feel guilty. At this point I am only 36 minutes in to the first episode. Part of me feels like the main character that is listening to these tapes is somehow being set up.
My thoughts are death by a thousand cuts is theme of Hannah’s tapes. I do find the compilations of teen drama cliche’s hard to get around. I do understand how this compilation of events could lead a person down a path of deep depression. There were definite times in high school I can remember the desperation and sense of dread when facing the people, the situations, and the social anxiety. Maybe that helped me in some way, having a word to describe part of how I was feeling. I am not sure what helped me get through this. I dismiss a lot of what this show has brought up so far as “teen drama” cliche’ but I have my journals from high school. These things I call teen dramas was part of my own experiences.
Just finishing with episode 3:
I feel like I must get to the end of this series to truly form an opinion.
Just in the begging of episode 4:
I am starting to feel like they have made Hannah into a hero. In high school I developed a very harsh opinion of people who commit suicide. The guy in the sombrero echoed some of the sentiments I had in high school about suicide. I felt anger toward them. I would call it the most cowardly act a person could do. And I would condemn it as selfish act of someone desperate for attention. I was going through the pains of trying to understand my own experience of my stepfather committing suicide.
The road so far this show has highlighted the way that bullying was considered classically is out of touch with the many forms of emotional torture that high school kids go through. My school had this crazy zero tolerance policy that involved a blame the victim mentality. It caused a lot of people to get into trouble for nothing. For example: we had one rule where anyone involved in a fight in “any” manner would be punished with suspension. Meaning someone could walk up to you in the hallway and punch you and you and whether or not you defended yourself you would be suspended.
If you watched a fight you would be suspended, and if you decided to step in and try to stop a fight you would be suspended. These type of “punch suspensions” became common place. Students who were all ready trouble makers, or who did not care or even wanted suspension would walk up and punch someone to get them into trouble.
We didn’t have anything like a student honor board, which I think is a good idea on paper.
As I am nearing the last half of the season I am starting to see some of the torture that this girl is going through, I understand that sometimes people get to their limit. Is it a problem of being emotionally prepared, having the right support group, or having people be decent to each other? I know first hand that high school students can be cruel. Here is the worst part, it is perpetual. One student is tortured and they often get to a point where it is to continue to be a victim or pick up the blade and become the torturer.
Just finished episode 9 really starting to worry about this clay kid, and hope that things don’t escalate. I hope that Jessica finds out the truth, and I really hope the tapes get released to the public soon. This story while very deep is very intriguing. I am still beginning to see how this show so far has shown this Hannah girl as the hero of the story. At the same time the Clay kid is trying to be the hero to make things right. And there is a definite theme of it’s a little too late to be a hero at this point.
The target audience here is clearly survivors. This is not a show designed for people who are hurting or considering suicide. This is for everyone else, people who aren’t going through severe emotional trauma.
Just about to start the last episode of this season it prompted me to do a goolgle search for news about suicide recently. Here is some of what I found and my take on the stories.
Knoxville News Sentinel Headline:
Haslam: There is hope and ‘very specific help’ for students contemplating suicide
Gov. Haslam’s message encouraging student’s that are thinking about suicide to seek help is a positive step, but it does not go far enough. If I got anything from my own experiences and from watching this series is that the focus should not necessarily be on getting people thinking about suicide to get help. The focus should be on the rest of us trying to be aware of our actions and how they are affecting others in school and in any other close social groups like school. What I am saying is that we should have a sense of awareness how we are treating people, and to pay attention to how others are treating people around us. If we see someone being treated badly we should reach out to them and try to be a friend. This is especially in these places like Tennessee that has passed laws allowing therapists to discriminate.
Peer support is absolutely a necessity in these situations. School counselors having legal license to discriminate against students leaves many with no one one to turn to for help. Being in a situation where no one seems to want to help or in the case of LGBT children, where parents, peers and now counselors can just write you off as broken, leaves very few options open.
As adults, parents, educators we forget the far reaching consequences of our political decisions. Allowing our representatives to make laws protecting bigotry puts the most at risk in our societies in danger.
I don’t know what the motivations of the students in Farragut were, and I am not trying to pin any specific reason on to them. At this point it is about healing for the families in that community, and for the rest of us we need open up these conversations.
Watching the final episode was difficult. It did bring up some painful emotions with their graphic depictions of suicide. I had to stop at that point, I wanted to not watch that scene. I wanted to just skip forward. But after pausing for a few minutes I decided that I need to watch this. It was for me very disturbing and in a strange way therapeutic. The intense and graphic nature of the suicide scene in this show was done intentionally to attempt as close to realism as possible. This was explained in the extra piece that they added at the end of the series on Netflix. I do agree with their decision on showing the suicide in the way they did. The actor that they chose to play Hannah did a wonderful job in this whole series, but this scene in particular she showed some of the horror of this decision. With all that being said, the ending of the show felt a little too just. What I mean is that it seemed to show that Hannah was able to get justice on the people involved, and that her suicide was the only way she could. I understand the idea that they were actually trying to portray. I just wish that they could have done it differently. It seemed a little too close to a heroic act. Almost as if her death got justice for her being raped, and served as a catalyst for Jessica to come out and talk about her being raped as well. I can see how many have taken this to be a strong negative for this show. Especially, for someone going through similar problems to watch this I can see how it could look like a viable solution. This is one of those shows I think that no one should watch alone. Teenagers and young adults definitely should have a parent or close friend with them to watch this if they are going to watch it.
The final note on this show is that, whether good or bad, it has forced a lot of people to start talking about this issue more. It is the number 2 cause of death for teens and young adults and that has a been gradually increasing for a long time. It has seemed as thoughb no one wants to talk about it. This could largely be do to the uncomfortable nature of it.,and the myths surrounding this issue.
One of the biggest myths surrounding this issue is that talking about it will trigger someone to commit suicide. I think this is also the most damaging myth. We need to talk about this and we need to talk about how we all treat each other. I know that in a political climate such as we have this is very difficult. There are so many reasons for us to be divided on so many different issues. I mean this a podcast about atheism, secularism and humanism. The ideas about whether or not there is god is a big divide. The things that should bring us together is those of us willing to start the conversations about how we treat each other and the ways that we can see past our differences and disagreements.
Here is the link to the story from my journals that I read at the end of the episode. -Broken Heroes-
Notes and sources:
Wreg news channel 3 memphis headline