Season 3 of Netflix’s controversial show, 13 Reasons Why, is expected to land anytime in the next couple months. The show, about a teenage girl who commits suicide, worried many educators and psychologists when it debuted in 2017. The National Association of School Psychologists even released a warning statement saying in part,
“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”
These concerns now seem to have been warranted with a recent study citing a 28.9% spike in teen suicide in the month that followed the show’s release.
I, too, responded to the show’s debut with an open letter to my friend who committed suicide when I was in college. I’m republishing it again in the hopes that someone in that 28.9% moving forward will find the courage or strength to get the help they need rather than make a mistake that can’t be undone.
I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you. I try not to hit myself every day since. I don’t know how heaven works, if you are able to hear me or not. But if you can this is what I would have told you, this is why NOT to end your life. And if you can’t hear me, then I hope someone who can will know though you seem alone, there is someone who cares.
1. You are loved.
I used to cry myself to sleep. I’d beg God for one good friend. Picked on at school, bullied, lonely, hurt. I needed someone. You chose to be that someone. I don’t think I ever told you the dark spot I was in when we met. But you brought me out of it. Maybe you feel unworthy or undeserving of love in this moment. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to wonder if anybody at all loves you. Let me be real clear on this: I love you.
2. You are forgiven.
Maybe it’s guilt that’s brought you here. We all need forgiveness. You have no monopoly on that. If you need it from me, you can have it. I’ve never denied you that. If you need it from God, just ask. He’s forgiven far worse.
3. You are not alone
Maybe you feel alone. Maybe you feel the battles you face make you alone in this world. You are wrong. You are neither alone, nor unloved. I am here. Others are here. Even if you don’t feel our love, we love.
4. The world is NOT better without you
You never said why you chose this path. I wonder if perhaps you thought we’d be better without you. We are not. You had struggles and they hurt me. That is true. But your friendship has always and will always be worth it. I’d rather have you with all your mess than spend my life unable to say thank you for the kindness you gave me in my time of need. Let me be there for you as you were for me.
5. It gets better
I know you are in pain. I won’t even pretend to understand your pain. I have had my own version of pain in life. I lost my daughter several years ago. She was born never taking a breath. We named her Hope, because in our worst pain all we had was hope. Hope that somehow it would get better. Hope that there is one who will fix the brokenness. Hope is what we have when all else is lost.
6. We won’t get over it
Maybe you’re thinking that we’ll hurt for a while and then get over it, get over you. We won’t. For six months, my life went into a tailspin. Your family for years longer than that. I still carry your obituary with me, tucked into my Bible at a passage that reads “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.” It’s been over a decade and the pain has softened but has yet to leave. I fear it never will.
7. You have a purpose
Maybe you feel you’ve wasted your life. Failed your purpose. The purpose of life is simple. Love God and love the people around you. You can’t love us, if you don’t stay with us. You’ll do it imperfectly, as we all do, but anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. As long as you are here, trying to love those around you, you are doing the one and only thing you’re meant to do, even if you do it poorly. And trust me, you’ve loved us better than you think.
8. There is help
There is help. Ask for it. Don’t stop calling. If I don’t answer, call someone else. There are people in your life who love you.
9. There is hope
I don’t know why God allows things to happen the way he does. Trust me. I’ve told him on many occasions how terrible his plan seems to be sometimes. I don’t know why there is so much brokenness and pain in the world. But I do know this much about God: He’s going to fix it. Hope is this thing in the future, this faith in some better time and place. We see it in glimmers now. And it’s those glimmers that allow us to believe that it’s coming. Hold on to that hope.
10. This is NOT what I want
Do not be confused here. I do not want this. I want you to live. I’d rather have the on and off, back and forth, pain in the a#% troubles that come with having a friend with your struggles, than have a life without you. I choose you with all your mess as you chose me with mine.
11. Your struggle inspires
Every struggle gives birth to loneliness. In battle you face the enemy and so lose sight of those who fight beside you. Knowing you still fight inspires me. While I never realized the intensity of your fight, I’ve been inspired watching you fight it. Give me the honor of fighting it with you. Just reach out. Let someone know.
12. I need you
In case you are confused that you’ve become a burden to those around you, be assured, that’s a lie. You chose me as a friend, when I needed one most. I had moved from out of state, was bullied by my peers, and desperately lonely. I always admired your kindness, talent, and brilliance and considered you my best, and at times, only friend. I know our life decisions began to diverge towards the end. But through it all we were friends. And I still need your friendship.
13. You can’t undo this
I thought you’d be my best man and I yours. Instead, I was your pallbearer. Every other mistake can be undone, the consequences dealt with. But this is final. I can go with you anywhere, but not there. Stay with me, friend. Give me the opportunity to be with you in your darkest moments as you were in mine. Don’t go where I can’t follow.
Your best friend,
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at iamsecond.com and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second's parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.