A Letter From a Sibling of a Suicidal Teenager Regarding the Effects of 13 Reasons Why

I come from a dysfunctional family, but who doesn’t? Dysfunction affects the poor and the most affluent, as was graphically displayed on the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why, to much backlash and criticism.

I happen to come from the upper-lower class, a bitter-sweet spot in the social class system where you appreciate all the little things in life and learn the fine character traits of compassion and humility, but grow up in an environment where no matter how sheltered you are, you experience more ‘traumatic’ events than the average kid from the suburbs.

The only rock I ever had in my entire life is my mother, who has been tasked with doing the work of a mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, therapist, and everything in between. If I didn’t have her, I don’t know where I would be today. I battled an eating disorder for over half of my life at one point, I’m an alcoholic in recovery, I cut myself on-and-off for over a decade; all of them took a toll on my mom’s own mental health.

It’s a Family Thing

As it turns out, while I was in the midst of my own self-destruction out running around, I was oblivious to the fact that my only sister, who is five years younger than me, was going down her own destructive path. She never got into drugs or alcohol and has always been very intelligent and did excellent in school. She received a full scholarship to a college away from our city, and I was a beauty school dropout away from her, bartending when I was able to hold a job or wasn’t in rehab.

I was selfish. But as I sobered up, I realized the severity of her mental illness. It was much worse than my mother ever told me because she wanted me to focus on getting myself well and not add to my own anxiety issues. I tried working on our relationship. We’ve always had a shared interest in the types of TV shows and movies we like, so that’s been my go-to way to start a conversation with her where I’ll get more than a one-word answer.

My sister, to this day, suffers from life-wrecking Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, debilitating Social Anxiety Disorder, and severe depression. She dropped out of college in 2015 with one semester left, still with a full scholarship, and was on track to graduate. However, her social anxiety and depression had slowly been getting worse and worse over the years, unbeknownst to me.

How Did 13 Reasons Why Affect My Family?

When the show was announced, I was thrilled. My favorite shows growing up were Degrassi and South of Nowhere, not shows that were shown on your typical children’s programming channels; shows that dealt with problems like teen pregnancy, being trans, child molestation, etc. (Keep in mind, I’m kind of old, so these topics were still taboo in my time.) However, at the same time, I knew my sister would be interested in this show as well just based on our similar tastes, and I was scared of what the content would contain, and how it would affect her.

We lived childhoods that were never reflected by the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. I couldn’t relate to the problems of those characters, and to be honest, I didn’t really even know anyone who lived that way. We didn’t know many people who had relationships with their fathers, there were very little, if any, students at our high school that didn’t pay for their own cars or phones. There were gangs in our schools. It was a similar situation to being gay or dark-skinned and never feeling like you have any representation in the entertainment industry.

I think my sister couldn’t deal with the environment the same way I could. Take the mental illness issues I’ve stated that I deal with, multiply it by 20, and you’ve got the level of severity of my beautiful little sister’s struggles.

The Effects13 Reasons Why Had On My Family

In 2016, my sister tried to kill herself. Twice. Way before the show was announced and she had never read the book. I didn’t find out from my mother, who was in her own depressive state of denial at the time. I found out from my best friend who happened to work for the police department that committed her to the mental ward and handles a good majority of processing. She saw her name come through, and then again three months later.

My mother didn’t want to face it. She placed on blame on her doctors and therapists and constantly said everyone was overreacting. The only person I could talk to about it was an aunt who’d faced worse tragedies.

My sister went to therapy. She started going once a week, then upped it to two, then added a psychiatrist, then entered a Partial Hospitalization Program on top of it all. Nothing worked. She continued to self-harm but went suicide-attempt free until she saw 13 Reasons Why.

My mom watched it alone without telling my sister, although she was scared of what she might see herself. I watched it on my own as well but was open with her about it. My mom and I then nervously awaiting her thoughts on the show. Her answer to me was just like a normal conversation between us about a TV show; “I liked it. Be careful though cause the ending is kinda graphic”.

Her answer to my mother, who immediately called me to relay the message once it finally came up in conversation: “Well, the show made me realize that I don’t want you to ever have to find my dead body and go through that. When I pictured that in my head it made me decide that I’m never going to kill myself”.

She’s now been at her first job for almost a year, has received a promotion, and bought a car. She still isolates and sees her doctors; she isn’t perfect. But today — suicide isn’t an option in her mind, so she works harder every single day to make the next day even better.

If you are thinking about suicide or hurting yourself now, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-8255, or 911.

Hope, opportunities, and a light at the end of the tunnel are not only possible but could start tomorrow. Don’t miss your chance to find happiness. Call Adolescent Growth for more information on treatment options for you or someone you care about at 1-888-948-9998.