I’ll never forget giving a talk to a large group of Catholic high school teenagers about depression and our faith. At the end of the talk, during the question-and-answer period, one teen stood up and asked me point blank, “Have you ever thought of committing suicide?” Never having been asked that question before I hesitated. Several thoughts raced through my head in that split second pause. Why is he asking? Would my answer be good or bad for the kids to hear? What are the youth leaders and organizing adults thinking right now? I had been asked not to mention suicide in my talk, and did anyway. In fact, I already noticed out of the corner of my eye the adults closing in to intervene.
“Yes,” I quickly said, looking directly into that boy’s eyes, “yes, when I was about your age, just like St. Elizabeth Seton was about your age when she thought of it.” Then looking at the entire group I continued, “…but I’m still alive and old enough to be your grandmother. St. Elizabeth lived to become a Saint. Life is worth living. So, if any of you are thinking of suicide please talk to one of the adults here before you leave.” A discussion followed.
Because of that confession, I gained some credibility. In their minds, I had known what it was like to be one of them and not ashamed to say so. That is what the mini-series, ’13 Reasons Why,’ does. It is one reason why there is a watching frenzy in the teen world, Catholic teens included. For those of you who don’t know, ’13 Reasons Why’ presents a story of events preceding the suicide of a teenager named Hannah. Those events include being bullied, misunderstood, and not heard, when all she wants is to be heard, comforted, and taught realistic ways to cope. The series is brutal in its portrayal and graphic, not exactly something that would get a Catholic stamp of approval.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, in 2016 suicide surpassed homicide and became the second leading cause of death for children and teens. Previously, it had been third. 90% of the victims are dealing with clinical depression and or bipolar illness. Catholic youth aren’t immune.
It behooves us to listen and find our young people professional help. For Catholics, this usually means a Catholic therapist or at least one who is not anti-Catholic. Your local parish and/or diocese family life office usually knows someone. If not, I have put two resources at the bottom of this post. I’ve also posted two reviews of ’13 Reasons Why.’ Secular and Catholic mental health professionals, including myself, are concerned about it. In addition, if you are looking for signs and symptoms, check out the tabs on this blog.
Regarding the miniseries there are several important things teens should know. First, Hannah is a fictional character and the actress who plays her is alive. Second, many members of the cast have admitted to having been bullied, as well as having thought about or attempting suicide. They too are alive. “Pain is temporary,” St. Teresa of Avila once said. Third, what other people do to a person is not the only contributing factor to emotional pain. Biology and how one interprets events are also an influence. So is the loss of a sense of God and eternity, something that permeates our society. Finally and most importantly, ’13 Reasons Why’ ends with the destruction of hope. Real life is full of hope, as is our faith.
National Suicide Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#