Everyone keeps telling me that I have to watch 13 Reasons Why. It’s a book about a teen-suicide that was turned into a Netflix series and it’s now taking over the internet. The chatter has come in waves, with people first touting the importance of the series and it’s focus on teen-suicide. That was followed by outrage from those who felt it actually glorified suicide. Now social media is discussing the importance of watching 13 Reasons Why with your kids, so you can answer any questions they have about it.
While I agree that this is all very important, I also wonder if we’re not putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. We don’t open discussions about drugs with our kids by showing them gruesome pictures of overdosed addicts. No, we usually just start by saying “DON’T DO DRUGS.”
Yes, that’s an oversimplification but I think opening a discussion about suicide should start with the feelings that could lead to it, like depression and anxiety. I say this not only as a parent, but as a grown-up kid who suffered from both.
I saw my first therapist when I was only 9-years-old. I asked my Mom if there was a doctor for people who felt sad all the time and, once she recovered from that parental gut-punch, she asked if I’d like to see one. The doctor she took me to looked exactly like the mental image you’re having right now. Bearded with glasses and wearing a shabby suit, he’s probably what Robin Williams envisioned for his Good Will Hunting character. He might have looked the part, but my therapist did little to help. We looked at ink-blot pictures together and chatted about my parents’ divorce, but nothing he said in that office ever eased the pain I was carrying around. What did help was knowing that my Mom cared and wanted to help me feel better. She might have been initially freaked out, but Mom started talking to me about my feelings and how, as insurmountable as they felt, they were actually normal. She reminded me to focus on the things that did bring me joy, like taking long rides on my bike or reading the Stephen King books I stole from my sister. Mom also told me all about the things she did when she was sad, and I stopped feeling so alone.
Maybe these are the fundamentals we should start with, instead of watching a show about a tortured teen who suffers until she can suffer no more. Maybe we should start by teaching our kids how to deal with the smaller aches and show them our own coping strategies before we show them how bad things can get. And most importantly, maybe we should open that door by telling them about our own struggles so they’ll know that they’re truly not alone.
My depression has never gone away entirely. It ebbs and flows unexpectedly, but now I know when it’s time to take a long ride or grab a good book. I also know to reach out for additional help if that doesn’t work, and to keep looking until I find a GOOD therapist (not someone who just LOOKS like one).
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