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A few months ago, I read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The book is about a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of tapes explaining why she did what she did. She sends these tapes out to the people she feels are the reason behind her decision to take her own life.

Though it has been a while now, and I’ve read other books in between, I find my thoughts constantly returning to Hannah’s story.

As I read the book, as the story progressed, I tried to understand and decipher why Hannah killed herself, what incident triggered it. Because to me, nothing seemed big enough to warrant such a drastic step.

When I finally read what had caused her to commit suicide, I wondered, “Is this a big enough reason to take her own life? Isn’t she making a mountain out of a molehill?”

But when I thought about it more, I realised something important. Was it for me to decide what was big for her and what wasn’t? Wasn’t that what the author was trying to tell the readers: that no one can understand the significance of an incident in a person’s life — and how it affects different aspects of their life — except that person themselves?

I think one of the insights from the book that impacted me the most was really understanding the fact that we affect the lives of the people around us a lot more than we are aware of, whether we intend to or not. We may think that we played a harmless prank on someone, or the words we said were meaningless and didn’t need to be taken so seriously, or it was just that one instance when we ignored someone or didn’t pick up/return their call. In all honesty, it isn’t a big deal — and most of the time, it truly isn’t a big deal. But we may unknowingly set off a chain of events that we did not intend to. And we need to understand and accept that.

These lines from the book encompass the crux of the author’s reasoning:

You don’t know what went on in the rest of my life. At home. Even at school. You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life, but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything… affects everything.

We do not know the battle that the other person is fighting. We do not know the pain they are in. And we don’t have the right to judge it. All we can do is empathise and try to understand it in the best, most sensitive way we can. Even psychologists, who have a better understanding of suicide than a layperson, can only try their best to identify the nuances in a person’s speech and behaviour that might indicate that he or she is possibly suicidal.

Suicide is the deepest form of depression. It feels like an abyss that one cannot crawl out off. There is a pervasive sense of helplessness which actually motivates the person to end their life, which convinces them that this is the best path of action. A person on the brink of suicide thinks, “People around me will be better off if I am out of the picture” or “I do not amount to anything, I am worthless and therefore I do not deserve to live” or something similar.

It is important to remember that attempting or committing suicide is usually not a person’s reaction to just one event, unless that event is extremely drastic. The path that leads a person to think of ending their own life is typically a culmination of several factors together, which leads them to believe there is no other way out. The title of the book — Thirteen Reasons Why — says exactly that.

When a person dies, it is not just them but the ones left behind who are also affected, who have to deal with the loss. With suicide, the implication and the ramifications are much, much deeper. Near and dear ones, family and friends, are left to cope with the sudden, shocking loss of a loved one while also having to come to terms with the fact that something was affecting that person so deeply, so painfully, that they couldn’t even turn to their family and friends for help. That the only way they saw out of it was to take their own life.

The foremost way to combat suicide is to create more awareness about it. A person who feels that suicide is the only way out must know that there is always someone they can approach for help, whether it is family, friend, counsellor or someone at the other end of a helpline. Suicide helpline numbers should be common knowledge.

A person who feels that their sibling or parent or friend or classmate may be suicidal should not balk at talking to that person about it, as intimidating as that might be. Bringing up the subject does not mean that they are planting the thought of suicide in that person’s head. They might be the only one responding to a silent call for help.

We as a society need to understand that we cannot just brush away someone’s concerns or anxiety because we might be uncomfortable dealing with it. Our vigilance, our empathy may just save a life.

* Suicide Helpline Numbers that work 24/7 (Indian Numbers):

  • Vandrevala Foundation – 1860-266-2345/1800-233-3330
  • Aasra – +91-22-27546669
  • Sneha – +91-44-2464 0050

**As told to Samyukta Maindarkar, Editor and Content Manager by Maitreyi Nigwekar

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