USA (MNN) — The popular yet controversial Netflix show 13 Reasons Why just began filming its third season. It’s a fictional show about teen suicide, and counselor Dean Vander Mey of Set Free Ministries says it points to something bigger.
“A show that can run that long with that topic, obviously it’s hitting heartstrings…it’s indicative of what’s happening in our culture. We’re not OK.”
13 Reasons Why: culture’s response to suicide
Adapted for television from a book by the same title, 13 Reasons Why revolves around the suicide of teenager Hannah Baker and the cassette tapes she leaves behind. Each tape is dedicated to a classmate and explains that person’s role in Baker’s decision to commit suicide.
Along with teen suicide, the show addresses several issues that are prevalent in today’s culture: bullying, sexual assault, gun violence, and more. Brian Yorkey, who adapted the content for film and is one of the show’s executive producers, says the show’s purpose goes beyond entertainment.
“What happened to Hannah will always be the first clause of the story. The rest of the story is about young people, as so many young people… [learn] how to heal from the things that have hurt them…to make the world that they want it to be, not just the world they are inheriting…and above all, how to take care of each other.”
Netflix intends the show to “bridge the gap” between teens and parents when it comes to discussing tough topics, but critics say 13 Reasons Why does more harm than good. Here’s a balanced assessment from Psychology Today.
Silence: the Church’s response to suicide
To Vander Mey, the popularity of a show like 13 Reasons Why reflects the pain, desperation, and prevalence of teen suicide in our culture.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 24, and there is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes. As reported here, the admissions of patients ages 5 to 17 for suicidal thoughts and actions more than doubled between 2008 and 2015.
Instead of speaking hope into that darkness, most Christians are holding back.
“We’re letting the culture run us instead of believers shining light into the darkness,” states Vander Mey.
“Our young people are being pulled into this ‘vortex’ and they really don’t know what to do, and I don’t think the Church is necessarily addressing the real issues.”
As reported last year by Baptist Press, a study by LifeWay Research found that many (76 percent) of churchgoers felt suicide was an issue in their community that needed to be addressed. However, half of the pastors studied didn’t feel prepared to address it, responding “somewhat agree” to this statement: Our church is equipped to assist someone who is threatening to take his or her own life.
Vander Mey echoes these sentiments, pointing to the spiritual elements surrounding suicide: identity, truth, confessing and renouncing sin, and more.
“You can’t give away what you don’t have, and our pastors are not trained for this. I don’t know of one seminary that teaches spiritual warfare.”
That’s why a young lady we’ll leave unnamed came to Set Free for help. She didn’t know where else to turn. She “went to church twice each Sunday, loved the Lord; made it all through high school, she was fine,” shares Vander Mey. Then she went to college.
“This girl — a Christian girl from a Christian home — within three months was suicidal.”
In order to fit in with her new peers, she adapted to their culture – parties, “hooking up”, experimentation.
“In 90 days she had slept with 14 people, 3 of them were girls, and she wanted to kill herself,” says Vander Mey. “She almost committed suicide, and we walked her off that cliff. We got her spun around, walking back toward God.”
National Suicide Awareness Month
September is National Suicide Awareness Month in the U.S. After all we’ve discussed today, would you prayerfully take a few moments and ask God how He’d like you to respond?
“The first time He (Jesus) reveals Himself as Messiah…He says, ‘the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon Me to preach good news to the poor’… ‘He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to open the eyes of the blind, to release the oppressed and set captives free.’…that’s what Jesus Christ came to do,” says Vander Mey, referring to Luke 4:18.
“Think about that one verse – the mission statement of Jesus – now, who’s responsible and who’s anointed to go help those who want to commit suicide? Who’s equipped for that? It should be the Church.”