— Mental Health Matters

I am an adolescent psychologist — and here are 13 valuable lessons I hope you'll learn from "13 Reasons Why"

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I am a child and adolescent psychologist from Panama. As a psychologist, I found Netflix’s original series 13 Reasons Why to be engaging, instructive, well written, and so sensitive to the issues that most teenagers and young adults are facing nowadays. The program — based on the YA novel by Jay Asher — so honestly, and painfully, demonstrates the effects of bullying, sexual assault, and more. These are some of the lessons I think that viewers can (and should) take from the series. Parents, teachers, counselors, and friends — feel free to use this as a guide to spark conversations with teenagers and young adults in your life.

Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault, harassment, bullying, suicidal thoughts, and suicide

***Spoilers ahead***

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Tape 1, Side A:

1Do not engage with cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is more than just taking a picture or a video — participating in the conversation and continuing to shame the victim is still part of cyber bullying. If you share the picture, forward it, comment on it, and/or participate in conversations about said picture — you’re contributing to cyber bullying. When you go into a public social media profile and comment negatively on this person’s body, their choice of clothing, their physical appearance — you’re contributing to cyber bullying. What can you do to stop it? Don’t engage. Don’t participate in the conversation.

Tape 1, Side B:

2Practice in-person assertiveness.

Rumors are just that: rumors. They are a story told by someone who passed it onto another person, who then shared it with another person, and so on. You don’t know if a rumor is true or not. You can only get to the truth when you talk to the source. But most importantly, you need to be assertive when you search for answers. When you communicate assertively, you share your ideas in a direct and clear form — without being aggressive –  in person, one on one, or on a phone call. Absolutely NO text messages where things can be misunderstood or ignored.

Tape 2, Side A:

3Respect women; don’t body-shame them.

It is never okay to comment on other people’s bodies, let alone to comment and publicly mock women’s bodies. As women, we already feel so much societal pressure and go through so many struggles with our body image. When we have to deal with other people putting us in direct competition with each other based on our body traits, things become even more unbearable. We are not objects that can be placed in direct comparison to one another. The minute you stop engaging in these practices is when you start to respect women and their bodies.

Tape 2, Side B:

4Ask for permission before posting about friends on social media.

In today’s world, where social media has gained so much momentum and we have the freedom to post whatever thought crosses our mind, it is important to take a step back. Ask people for permission when posting about them.  This is especially important if you’re into photography — ask for permission when taking or posting pictures of other people.

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Tape 3, Side A:

5It will get better.

It’s never easy to express your sexuality, especially if your orientation is different from what society or family imposes as the norm. Know that you’re not alone, and you’re living in an era where everyday, people are fighting for you and your rights. Remember this. Human beings, regardless of their sexual orientation, are fighting for you. You’re not alone and it will get better.

Tape 3, Side B:

6Do not objectify women.

We are not an object to add value to your reputation. We are not an accessory to make you a bonafide stud. We are not a prize that can be won. We are human beings. We deserve respect. We can all — men, women, and every gender — work to stop the objectification of women.

Tape 4, Side A:

7Remember the power of compliments.

If you see a positive trait in someone, tell them. If you notice they have a talent you admire, tell them. Compliments are so incredibly powerful, and we so rarely tell other people what we admire in them. If you have something nice to say, say it. It might be NBD for you, but it could mean the world for that person, on that particular day, in that particular situation.

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Tape 4, Side B:

8Again, don’t share information about a person without their permission

Sometimes, we might think we are sharing something about another person that we consider to be worth sharing, or not a big deal to talk about. Maybe it’s a person’s writing, or new information about their life. But if that person hasn’t given us permission to share something, we are breaking their trust. We could potentially be hurting their feelings or making them feel uncomfortable. When in doubt, ask.

Tape 5, Side A:

9Anything done without consent is rape.

This, in my opinion, is one of the most important lessons throughout the season. If a person is not in the mental or physical state to provide consent to sexual intercourse, it is rape. The minute a woman says no, it is rape. If a woman is under a heavy influence of drugs or alcohol, making her unable to speak or react, it is rape. We need to start calling this horrible act what it is. No woman – regardless of what they were wearing, saying, or doing – was “asking for it.” We need to stop shaming the victim, and start making the abuser responsible.

Tape 5, Side B:

10Speak up.

If you hear someone being blamed or talked about for something they did not do, and you KNOW that it wasn’t them, it is important to speak up. Your silence only makes it worse, because that other person’s reputation gets stained with every word you don’t say. The same applies for the phrase “tomorrow might be too late.” We can see that Clay struggles with regret more than anyone else — he never felt confident enough to speak up and tell Hannah how he felt. Speaking up is terrifying, but it’s better to live with the knowledge that you spoke your mind, than it is to live with regret.

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Tape 6, Side A:

11The importance of consent cannot be overstated.

Consent is not only sexy, it is mandatory. We need to teach this younger generation what consent looks like. We need to help them practice the kinds of questions they might ask. “Is this okay? Are you okay? Are you okay with us having sex?” Anything that is not a YES to any of these questions is not consent. It’s as simple as that. This goes back to Tape 5, Side A: if the woman is not in the optimal state of mind to answer, it is not consent.

Tape 6, Side B:

12We need to stop shaming the victims of sexual assault.

It is so easy to judge and ask “What was she wearing?” when we hear stories about sexual assault. This is irrelevant. No amount of clothes — or lack thereof — is an excuse for anyone physically forcing himself (or herself) on another person. In this particular episode, we see Hannah voluntarily going to Bryce’s house. But that does not mean she was “asking” for anything. She didn’t go because she was looking to get abused. She didn’t go because she “wanted” it. It’s never because she wanted it.

Tape 7, Side A:

13How to help those experiencing suicidal thoughts or trauma from rape.

As psychologists, we are trained to ask very specific questions when it comes to suicidal ideation and rape survival. We understand that not everyone knows how to have these conversations, so there are practical things you can do when a friend or a family member expresses any of these struggles. Recommend a hot line, keep them company as they call that hotline, help them find a therapist or support group, help them talk to their parents, go with them to the authorities to report sexual assault (if they choose to report), etc. One of the most important things we could do is remind them that they are not alone, and this is not a normal thing that they should be forced to just “move on” from. Let this person know that they add value to your life, help them understand that they are not a burden.

At the end of the day, it comes down to being nice and respectful to others, and being nice and respectful to yourself. There’s enough sadness and sorrow in the world as it is — we could all use a bit more light in our days.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat online. (Available 24 hours a day)
Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at Call 1-800-656-4673 or chat online. (Available 24 hours a day)

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