Speak Up

Reid Larsen
April 26, 2017

This one is different. This blog is not about my time here in Madrid or learning about the culture in another part of Europe. This one is for the over 40,000 Americans who commit suicide every year, for the thousands more who attempt, for the over 300,000 rape survivors, for the thousands of children who are bullied in schools across the country, and for the millions of people struggling with depression and other mental illnesses. This one is for Tylen, Matthew, Sid, Tom, and Meg -- five students from my home town who lost their battle with depression this past year. This one is especially for Meg, a close friend of mine, whom I miss dearly and would do anything to see one last time.

I am writing about this because my brother and I recently finished the extremely popular Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why.’ There has been a lot of discussion about this show, but I’ve seen a lot of fully positive or fully negative reviews of the show. I think some aspects of the show are done really well, but others fall dangerously short and unintentionally send harmful messages. The show is about a high school girl named Hannah, her suicide, and the thirteen reasons why she did it, each of which have a corresponding audio recording blaming a total of 12 people for their role in her suicide. This is not a show anyone would enjoy watching and I don’t think everyone should watch it. It is extremely graphic and provides detailed insight into topics such as bullying, sexual assault, suicide and the effect they have on students in high school. I do however believe it brings up important points and gets the conversation going about these hard-to-talk about issues which is crucial in the fight to destigmatize mental illness and aid in the fight against sexual assault.

To me, the biggest way the show fell short was in how they portrayed things from Hannah’s point of view. Even from the title 13 Reasons Why, the directors fail to portray a huge point in how depression works. The fact that Hannah details a series of horrible things that are done to her by the terrible kids in her school, as the reason for her suicide tells the viewer that specific events are what cause depression. As long as you don’t go through all of the terrible things that happen to Hannah, you will be fine. With my friend Meg, she certainly had horrible things happen to her but she, like Hannah, also had many people who loved her, and she knew that. She had a serious mental illness, but as was said about her at her funeral, ‘we couldn’t love the pain out of her.’ Many young people who commit suicide have perfectly normal, “happy” and healthy lives but they are suffering from an illness, the same way someone suffers from cancer or diabetes.Of course the things done to Hannah contribute to her depression, but the show does not even touch on the fact that so much of mental illness has to do with imbalances in brain chemistry. I’ve seen mental illness brought entirely under control with the help of medicine. To send the message that the sole cause of suicide is how one is treated neglects the root cause of mental illness and can inflict lasting damage to the loved ones left in the wake of the suicide.

While the directors fell short in showing things from Hannah’s perspective, I thought they did a good job with the responses by the students and parents in the community. The community’s response seemed very accurate. The community put a bandaid over a gushing wound. I thought the scene where Alex tears down posters that said things like “suicide is not an option” really represented the frustration felt by the students with the response to suicide. How much actually changed? Did people become any nicer or change the way they lived? Did the community actually do a lot more to take care of their students? They failed to realize that in the wake of Hannah’s suicide, many other students’ lives were falling apart as well. But change is difficult, and I can’t say I have the answers for how to respond in such situations – but the conversation has to start and has to continue.

Many people say high schools like Hannah's don't exist, but kids in high school are exactly like those portrayed in the show. Maybe not in every school, or from everyone’s perspective, but countless students have similar experiences to Hannah. It may be hard to see things this way if you don’t experience it yourself. Bullying may not happen to us or even to our friends, but the rumors we hear are about someone, and actually affect that person in real life. I know I certainly couldn’t see things this way in high school. Even now, with everything I’ve learned through my experiences with mental illness, I don’t fully understand what it’s like to have mental illness or what it’s like to be a victim of bullying. Like many people, I do my best and try to see things from others’ perspectives but there is often a lot that I miss.

However, through my experiences I have learned a few things, and the biggest is that everything you do affects someone. Whether that’s saying something mean about your friend’s ex or inviting the shy kid in math class to come hang out after school, everything you do means something to someone. And doing nothing can be bad too. Something I’ve learned the hard way is that one of the most dangerous things one can do as a friend of someone suffering from mental illness is run away. It takes a lot of courage for a friend to reach out and say that they are struggling and need help; if we run from them, or let that conversation die before it starts, we are telling them that we do not support them, even if the reason is just because we don’t know what to say. This leaves our friend less and less likely to reach out in the future, thus worsening their illness. On the contrary, one of, if not the best things to do is to reach out on our own to show that we care. The people close to us know we aren’t psychologists, but just by showing that we care and that we’ll stick this out with them, makes mental illness a lot less scary and a lot more manageable. Just having a friend to listen means so much.

As a community, we need to learn how to talk about mental illness, how to help those suffering, and ultimately we need to support our peers in getting healthy so they can live the happy lives that they deserve. The biggest opposition to mental health is education. You’ve made it this far through this blog, so you must have your own thoughts about mental health as well -- speak up and get the conversation going about mental health. The more we talk about it, the healthier our friends will be.


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Reid Larsen

<p>There&rsquo;s nothing like late night, deep talks, and solving the world&rsquo;s problems. In Madrid, I&rsquo;m looking to learn as much as I can, get to know as many people as I can, and get outside my comfort zone as much as I can. Come join the adventure.</p>

2017 Spring
Home University:
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Engineering - General
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