Nearly four years ago, 15-year-old Megan Abbott committed suicide behind Oxford High School.
In the wake of the success of Netflix’s show, “13 Reasons Why,” Oxford High School has decided to begin the “13 Reasons Why Not” initiative in honor of Megan and her sister, Morgan, who attends Oxford High as a junior. For 13 days, the school will play a recording each morning from a student detailing a personal problem, and then thanking someone who helped them get through it.
Pam Fine, dean of Oxford High School, wanted to find a way to honor Megan’s memory and to help remind students that suicide is never the only option. She decided to use some of the premise of the popular Netflix show, including 13 pretaped recordings. Her hope is to draw attention to the shared human experience of suffering but to emphasize the people who help us get through it. These people become the reason we don’t choose suicide, or our 13 reasons why not.
As I read this article, I thought that this is exactly the powerful positive initiative that ought to trend on social media. What if we took 13 days to express our “13 Reasons Why Not” in hopes of bringing attention to the signs of suicide and to acknowledge the people in our lives who help us cope? Each post could include a challenging experience that we’ve faced, the name of the person(s) who’ve helped us get through it, the hashtag #13ReasonsWhyNot, and information about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
Why is it so important to help positive stories like this one gain more attention?
Every day our Facebook feeds are filled with news—and so much of that news weighs us down with negativity. Why is it that a negative news story is more likely to trend while more positive ones get pushed to the side?
Researchers often attribute this to our negativity bias, or our preference to hear and recall bad news more easily than good news. This theory states that negativity bias is an evolutionary reaction that helps us to avoid danger.
So, while it’s understandable that we’re often tuned in to the harrowing news stories of our day, what would our lives be like if we also promoted positive stories like Oxford High’s ambitious project, and, in doing so, helped to raise awareness of the risk of suicide?
How can changing the news we consume help us?
Researchers have found that consuming more news can lead to higher levels of depression, anxiety, and compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue, in particular, has been a problem for me lately. Every day brings a new story of another human or animal rights infringement and a call for help and support. It can be draining to feel like there are so many causes deserving of my attention with so little time or energy to go around. It becomes exhausting, and, at a certain point, can negatively impact one’s health.
When the Oxford High news story came to me, I thought about how compassion fatigue could be relieved by taking positive action and by focusing on the people who are making a positive difference. We all have our 13 reasons why not, the reasons we choose to keep going in the face of our many challenges.
When we feel weighted down, adding up our blessings and expressing our gratitude can help relieve our own stress, remind us of our reasons for going on, and—if we choose to post about it publicly—help remind others that there is always something for which we can practice gratitude. It may be just what someone else needs to hear to help them refocus on the positive attributes of their own life.
Focusing instead on more positive news stories and projects can be an essential self-care practice to fight against compassion fatigue, anxiety, and depression—all factors that increase suicide risk.
While this doesn’t mean that we should be uninformed about current events, it can be a helpful practice to take time to shift our focus to positive stories and to help spread awareness about projects like the one at Oxford High School. Our efforts can help more positive stories gain additional attention by trending on social media. This can also be a way to combat the growing numbers of suicides by bringing awareness to the fact that we all struggle but also equally have people in this world who make our lives worth living.
So when we feel the onset of compassion fatigue and crave a break from all of the negative media, we can take the time to seek out positive news stories to share. We can take 13 days (or simply put up 13 posts) to talk about our own #13ReasonsWhyNot, to share our struggles, and to remind others that there is always someone out there who cares and will help.
We can help do our part to shine a light on the valiant efforts of Oxford High School’s staff and student body, and also remind others to be aware of the signs of suicide and look for opportunities to be someone’s reason why not.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Rachael Crowe/Unsplash
Editor: Leah Sugerman