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Approach ‘13 Reasons Why’ with Curiosity Instead of Fear .pdf

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Claudia Black Young Adult Center
Call Intake At:
(outside the US: 928-668-1999

Approach ‘13 Reasons Why’ with Curiosity
Instead of Fear
By Lindsay Merrell, Therapist, Remuda Ranch at The
Since the years of my internship, working with patients facing suicidal
thoughts has been concerning, challenging, and inspiring. Individuals
struggling with such hopelessness come to professionals in desperate
need of relief from what is starting to feel like an inevitable outcome.
Our responsibility as professionals is to be persistently and empathically
interested in the individual’s struggle. Our curiosity gives them the
courage to look at the very pain they fear.
Netflix’s hit TV Show 13 Reasons Why provides the audience with a
window into the multitude of opportunities a community often has to
intervene when an individual is living in fear of their pain.
In 13 Reasons Why, the main character, Hannah, struggles with suicidal
thoughts. She risks reaching out to her guidance counselor—the very
person tasked with being a support to adolescence in the educational
environment-- for help; but, as a result, we as an audience witness the
harm that occurs when helping professionals lack curiosity.
The guidance counselor dismisses Hannah’s pain and a disconnection
from help occurred. The show portrays very well how the disconnection
from compassionate support leads to an increase in isolation and stigma
for the individual and for the community as it experiences a traumatic
Adolescents are already at an anatomical disadvantage when it comes to
seeking support. They are experiencing normal, but tumultuous

hormonal changes within a neurological system that hasn’t yet
developed insight into cognitive distortions or the ability to restructure
distorted thoughts. As professionals, we have the opportunity to assist
and educate individuals and families on how to navigate the ups and
downs of the adolescent years; however, this opportunity often only
comes after worrisome symptoms appear.
13 Reasons Why has given teenagers, schools, and families a framework
from which to process situations which may already be occurring right
under their noses, and will hopefully give them the chance to intervene
before the individual’s desperation takes over.
Recently, the media has reported that many parents, teachers, and
counselors are concerned that 13 Reasons Why “glorifies” suicide. But, it
seems to me that 13 Reasons Why could bring about more awareness on
how to support an individual struggling with suicidal thoughts or how
those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts can seek support.
As friends, therapists, and parents, aren't we better equipped to help
when we are more culturally aware and curious about the nuances
individuals’ struggles? It seems unreasonable to make a judgment about
the “dangers” of the show simply based on the fact that the characters in
the storyline do not handle the situations in the one size fits all manner
we deem best.
Before her tragic death, Hannah records a series of tapes to illustrate
how ignorance, fear, and judgment disconnected her, and disconnects
others, from necessary interventions and support within the community.
Through the lens of fear, Hannah's tapes may appear to assign blame to
everyone involved; however, when fear is replaced with curiosity and
empathy, can’t the tapes be viewed as an educational opportunity for the
viewer? The tapes teach us that asking questions, paying attention, and
speaking up can provide hope for recovery from what feels like
insurmountable pain.
Fear of judgment from peers and adults coupled with the stigma around
asking for support unnecessarily leads adolescents to suppress their
perceived realities to struggle through it alone more than they have to.
This often leads to the manifestation of eating disorders, substance

abuse, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. The challenge for the individual
and the community portrayed in the show is the suppression of the
struggling individual’s perceived reality and the ultimate lack of
awareness of the real pain of that struggle.
Compassion’s enemy is fear. It paralyzes people and prevents them from
helping those who struggle with suicidal ideation. Let’s not allow
ourselves to be paralyzed by the fear of what 13 Reasons Why could
teach young people; instead, let use it to teach ourselves how to be more
compassionate, how to best offer the support that is needed, and how to
stay curious and ask questions that can help lead those suffering to
13 Reasons Why is a show that illuminates the difficulties adolescents
face. As adults, when we put our fear aside and become curious, we open
the door to protecting a vulnerable individual from a life-altering
decision and breathe hope back into those we care about.
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Instead of Fear

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