A Friend's Guide to 13 Reasons Why
Who killed Hannah Baker? That is the underlying question throughout the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Do you know the answer to that question? We could blame the boy who raped her. We could blame the guidance counselor for not doing enough when Hannah tried to tell him. We could blame the classmate for sharing the photo that ruined Hannah’s reputation. But none of those is the answer. The answer to the question is simple. Hannah Baker killed Hannah Baker. And in creating the tapes and killing herself, Hannah chose to hurt and confuse 13 other people. What can you do if one of your friends is hurting? What steps can you take to help them?
As a professional counselor, one of my fears as I watch the series is that you will believe that you are completely responsible for the lives of those around you—that if someone you love attempts or completes suicide, it is your fault. That is not true. Each person who chooses to end their life is ultimately responsible for that choice. There is hope and help for those who struggle, if they are able to access that help.
I don’t want to diminish the pain that the Hannah Bakers of the world experience. She faced tough struggles and felt so much pain. And her peers contributed to that pain. You undoubtedly have contributed to the pain of others. It is part of being sinful human beings. We make mistakes and treat others badly at times. 13 Reasons Why drives that point home. How can we use that point to strengthen ourselves and our relationships with others? What can you do to help your friends if they are struggling with issues like depression and suicidal thoughts?
- Listen to them. Hear what they are saying and even what they might not be saying. You likely know your friends well and may be able to tell when something isn’t right. Ask them.
- Know the warning signs of depression and suicide.
- Tell an adult. If you are worried about your friend’s safety, you need to tell an adult—even if your friend asks you not to, even if they will be angry at you, and even if you worry they will hate you forever. At least they will be alive.
- Care for others. Share Christ’s love in the small, practical things in life. Smile at people who look lonely. Invite people to sit with you at lunch. Help someone carry something large or awkward. Hold the door for someone. All of these little things can add up to show someone that there are people who care in the world. Let’s take to heart Christ’s command to “love one another” (John 13:34) and ask for his forgiveness when we fail. But remember—ultimately, you are not responsible for the choices of others.
- Stand up for those being bullied. If you see someone bullying another, tell them to stop. Get adults involved if you need to. Reach out to the victim and offer support. Be a friend. Listen.
- Advocate for yourself and your peers. If you think your school needs to make changes in the way it handles bullying, say that. If you think you and your peers need education on depression and suicide, ask for it. If you think parents need to learn to recognize warning signs and how to respond, tell them. As a teen, it is easy to feel powerless. But you have a voice. Use it in appropriate ways. You have the power to start a change.
- Pray. Pray for yourself, that you make healthy choices and are able to reflect Christ’s love to others. Pray for your peers, that they are able to reach out when they need help. Pray for the adults in your lives, that they will know how to respond when faced with a teen who is struggling.
- And take care of yourself. If you feel that you are starting to struggle, tell someone! Ask for help—from your parents, a trusted adult, your pastor, or a professional counselor. There is no shame in asking for help. It is a sign of strength and courage. Please click here for a downloadable coping plan.
Elizabeth Robinson is a Licensed Professional Counselor with 10 years of experience counseling adolescents with mental health issues in outpatient and psychiatric day treatment settings. She works extensively with teens who are suicidal and engage in self-harm.