Looking at popular movies and TV shows and how they affected me.
Trigger Warning: Suicide, self-harm
Suicide is a topic I avoid a lot in my writing, which is ironic since it’s the biggest inspiration behind my blog. Whenever I mention suicidal ideation or self-harm, I always fear it will trigger someone.
I never want to be the reason someone commits self-harm, but I think it’s important to discuss suicidal feelings, especially since it’s a big part of bipolar for many of us. September is also Suicide Prevention Awareness month, so I feel the need to put out something new on the subject.
So, here goes. This is tough, but I’m going to be as open as possible.
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Suicide and Me
To steal from AA: my name is Scott, and I have daily thoughts of suicide. It’s part of my life, every day. And is has been since I was 10 years old.
Most days, it’s not the dark, “I have to end things now” feeling, though I’ve been there several times. Most of the time, it’s just a plan. The how to of my exit strategy. As strange as it may sound, I find comfort in it. When the noise in my head is too loud or social anxiety has me running for solitude, knowing that I could end things gives me a sense of peace.
If you don’t have bipolar disorder or another mental illness, you might fear for my safety, but there’s no reason to worry. I know quite a few people fighting bipolar, and many have told me they think about ending things just as often.
There are degrees of suicidal ideation ranging from having a passing thought to scheduling a time and place. You can conquer occasional passing thoughts, but the intense do-it-now feeling needs immediate emergency attention.
Suicide is never the right answer, but I’m realizing that many people, not just those with a diagnosed mental disorder, think about ending things. The reality of how common it is highlights why we need to talk about it.
Movies and TV Shows
Many movies and TV shows have approached the subject, some with great care and others with total disregard. Are movies making things worse? I think the answer depends on where you are mentally when you see it. A few movies caused me to spiral downward, but others gave me validation and hope.
What follows are a few movies and TV shows I watched specifically because they addressed suicide. Some films mentioned may contain subjects that offend you, so I’m not recommending any of these movies. Instead, these shows are now part of my story, so I want to share how they affected me.
It’s My Party (1996)
One of the first movies I saw featuring suicide was not long after I found out I had bipolar disorder. A friend told me about this “really powerful movie.” He was right, but its power was far from the positive piece of art he expected it to be.
From IMDB, It’s My Party recap, “Nick is nearing the end of a 3-year battle with AIDS and makes arrangements to die. He hosts a party to say goodbye to friends and family.”
It sounds harmless enough, but when I saw it, I was just adjusting to the idea I had bipolar. My diagnosis directly resulted from an interrupted suicide attempt.
I cried for a week after I watched the movie. It was the wrong time for me to watch a movie about ending a life. My emotions were too raw and unprocessed. I knew the storyline for the movie, but seeing Nick take his exit and how others reacted brought too many emotions online. I didn’t want to know how my choices might affect others, but the movie put those thoughts front and center in a devastating way.
Girl Interrupted (1999)
Girl Interrupted came a few years later. My life with bipolar was stable, and I had an active social life again. Another friend had this movie at the top of her list, so one Friday night, we made chili and watched it.
The impact was soul crushing. The movie depictions made me obsess about self-harm, a habit I had mostly stopped but never talked about. The cruelness of Angelina Jolie’s character reinforced all my worst fears about mental illness turning me into a monster. I had nightmares for months and my hands shook every time I saw a bottle of acetaminophen.
I don’t think this movie would be good for me even on my best days. Girl Interrupted shows the worst of mental illness in a harmful way. I will never watch it again.
13 Reasons Why (Season 1)
There are many reasons I don’t recommend 13 Reasons Why to others. From suicide and rape to school violence, the show highlights some of the worst parts of today’s world. Even so, Season 1 touched me in a way no other movie or TV show has.
The story is beautifully told even in its harsh trauma. Seeing Hannah’s last days play out, knowing she missed the signs of how many people loved her, is an eye opener. Then, witnessing the way her death devastated so many others changed the way I thought about suicide. Seeing all sides of the story reminded me that we rarely know everything that’s going on around us.
It’s understandable why many parents won’t let their kids watch the series, but I wish I had seen something similar when I was a teen. Throughout all of highschool, I thought I was the only one thinking about suicide every day and hiding terrible secrets. I imagine the series has helped many know they aren’t alone. And I hope the devastation Hannah left behind helps many choose to live.
The first time I watched The Hours, I found it a bit chaotic, but it quickly became a part of me. Featuring stories of three women from three different time periods, The Hours had to be written and directed by people who understand mental illness from the inside.
All three women face suicide in their own way, each story showing the internal turmoil and heartache a person can hide inside. This is my go-to movie when I want to confront my worst suicidal feelings.
Why it comforts me, I can’t explain. Maybe it’s the incredible soundtrack by Philip Glass or the way it portrays the chaos of a writer’s life. Whatever it is, I always feel a little better after watching it.
Dear Evan Hansen
Overall, Dear Evan Hansen moved me in a positive way. It reminded me life can get better and that you never know whose life you’re touching. While the parent’s initial reaction to suicide is completely unrealistic, that’s not the point of the story. It is a musical after all, so it’s not exactly the playground for realism.
The movie does an excellent job of showing how many fight mental illness but hide it behind a smile and a busy life. In Alana’s song, The Anonymous Ones, she sings, “The parts we can’t tell, we carry them well, but that doesn’t mean they’re not heavy.”
Oh, man, how true!
So many of us keep our mental illnesses a secret. We hide our depression behind loud laughter and confront our anxiety by throwing ourselves into activities. We may hide our struggles, but it doesn’t make them any less of a burden.
A Million Little Things
A Million Little Things is my favorite series right now. The pilot episode is about the suicide of a man named John. His death radically alters the life of all who knew him, from his family to his closest friends. It’s a long look at how much damage one person’s death can do.
A Million Little Things does a great job showing mental illness in action with Rome’s character. It’s especially effective because it shows both his struggles as a man fighting depression and as a black man fighting cultural biases. It also shows how the impact of a death affects loved ones for years.
You Do You
I’m sure suicidal thoughts will continue to be part of my life until they cure bipolar. I hope that happens in my lifetime. Until then, it’s another monster we have to fight, but it’s one you can conquer.
Should you watch movies and TV shows featuring suicide? It depends on where your head is and how easily you’re triggered. Only you know you.
There have been times the subject has popped up unexpectedly in a movie I was watching and hit me hard in the wrong way. But there are also times I seek these kinds of stories to remind myself I’m not the only one fighting these awful thoughts. It’s also good to remember that suicide is a choice that affects a lot more than just your life.
I also think some of these films give insight to those who have never considered suicide. Especially if someone you love has a mental illness, you need to know the signs and how to help. The right story can give you a glimpse into a mind you might not otherwise understand.
When you have a mental illness, it’s up to you to figure out what helps and what hurts. No matter where you stand on the issue, the most important thing is that you remember choosing life is always the right answer.
No matter how bad things get, they can improve. Life can get so much better, but you have to keep fighting to see it.
Until next time, keep fighting.