“13 Reasons Why” is too controversial? Tell that to my depression.

In this morning’s assembly, we talked about suicide.

No, not the usual “watch for the signs” lecture that few people seem to listen to. Not even the usual anti-bullying talk that schools across the world play on a stuck record. No. Today we talked about suicide the way suicide should be talked about. It wasn’t sugarcoated in the slightest, nor was it dusted in a thick frosting of trigger warnings. Hell, they didn’t even give us the chance to leave if we were bothered by what was being said. It was a public service announcement, done the way all public service announcements should be.

Specifically, we were talking about This Morning’s “Be Kind” campaign, which has been sweeping the nation over the past couple of weeks. I’ve got to admit that, being a student, I was in school at the time it was aired and so I wasn’t aware that the campaign even existed. Now that I am, however, it is my duty to share it.

Please, before you read on, take the time to watch this video and take the pledge to support the Be Kind campaign. It might be hard-hitting for some of you, but it is so important that this message is heard: http://www.itv.com/thismorning/hot-topics/pledge-to-share-our-anti-bullying-message

It was interesting coming out of the assembly and hearing so many different responses. Anything to do with mental health or suicide is bound to be a sensitive topic, I know this from personal experience, so it wasn’t a surprise to see that a fair few members of my year group were brought to tears by the interviews. What did shock me were the people on the other side of the spectrum: the people who disapproved; the people who thought they shouldn’t have had to watch the video; the people who thought the message didn’t apply to them.

I’m going to stop you right there. It DOES apply to you. It applies to everyone. According to samaritans.org, the UK had a suicide rate of 10.8 per 100,000 people in 2014. That figure is only rising and rising, and that fact terrifies me as it should terrify the world.

Only, it’s not.

Let me tell you a story, and trust me, I wouldn’t be telling you this unless I thought it could help somebody. Until recently, I was at my worst. At the start of this year I was diagnosed with a longer list of mental health problems, the most prominent of which being anxiety (generalised and post traumatic stress) and depression. More recently I have found out that the creative section of my brain, as they put it, is “overactive”; this has been literally “inventing memories”, some of which have spawned from my PTSD, which stopped me from talking to anyone because I felt like nobody could be trusted.  I couldn’t separate imagination from reality. Eventually, I couldn’t take it. I tried everything that my overly-imaginative brain could think of, but nothing seemed to work for me. Self harm, alcohol, starvation. Nothing worked. Nothing made me feel any better. Of course, I didn’t even realise that any of this was wrong at the time; it took a friend of mine to snap me back into reality and show me the damage I was doing to myself for me to give in and get some serious help. Now I’m on a strong road to recovery, but I wouldn’t be if that one friend hadn’t spoken up.

I’m telling you this because, believe it or not, you need to know. You need to start seeing the world in its non-sugarcoated reality. I’m sick of things being labelled as “too controversial”. Listen up kiddos: CONTROVERSIAL IS GOOD!

Take Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”. If you know me, there’s a 99.999% chance that I have sat you down and forced you to watch at least one episode. I love it. No, that’s the wrong word. I think that it’s impossible to “love” a show like that, a show that it so hard-hitting and difficult to watch and yet is so, SO important to modern society. I do, in fact, admire it. I admire the courage it took to create. I admire the message it so blatantly screams at its viewers through the screen. I admire the debate it has sparked, which in turn has ENCOURAGED open conversation about suicide, mental health, TRUE feminism, and even LGBT rights for the first time. I am so unconditionally grateful for the service it has done to us as a community. And yet, many have labelled it as “too controversial” for mass audiences.

So, what? We’re not allowed to raise awareness of real, life-or-death issues?

Because trust me, the issues raised in “13 Reasons Why” are so. very. real.

Listen, the show is difficult to watch. It’s supposed to be. It has sufficient trigger warnings (it clearly warns about sensitive images at the start of every episode necessary), it was realistic, and it most certainly portrayed mental health and suicide as realistically as it possibly could. It was not “romanticising” in the slightest, in fact it had the complete opposite effect. After watching the series, I swore to myself and to my friends that I would never, never hurt myself like that, because I couldn’t possibly hurt them as much as the characters in “13 Reasons Why” were hurt. I don’t know, maybe that’s just the effect it had on me, but by belittling or shunning the message that the show perpetuates, you are belittling and shunning the reason why I was able to change my personal mindset. So yes, I’m offended. “I’m sorry.”

This brings me to the main point of this blog. Be controversial. I have a very clear plan for my future: Write. Write to inspire. Write to challenge. Write to change. I do not want to live my entire life, pursuing a career in such an influential industry as the media, without sparking some kind of debate. I want my legacy not to be centered around my achievements as an artist alone, but as an activist. I want to CHANGE something in the world, and in a sugarcoated world that simply isn’t possible without a little controversy.

I’m not saying, of course, that people shouldn’t be effected by sensitive topics, nor that trigger warnings shouldn’t exist. That would be ridiculous. I know full well the effects of triggers on people, having dealt with them myself. I know how hard it is, and if programs like “13 Reasons Why” are too graphic or hard-hitting for you then that’s absolutely fine. Know your limits, and don’t put yourself at risk. What I’m saying is that nothing can be too controversial. Those of us who understand the issues of mental health personally should be using that understanding and experience to educate the ignorant, to break the stigma, and to encourage change. This is the 21st Century, and these stigmas just shouldn’t exist anymore.

Picture courtesy of Netflix.com

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