13 Reasons Why, Suicide & Our Identity in Christ

June 27th, 2017

Like many of my fellow youth workers, I recently found myself watching the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why.” More importantly, I found myself prayerfully wrestling over how to best address the notion that revenge suicide is somehow noble when presented in a program virtually devoid of any Christian influence that many of my teenagers have been watching and absorbing. After conversation with my pastoral staff and several caring adult volunteer youth leaders, I sent the letter below via email to our parents outlining why it’s imperative that we as youth workers speak Truth in the midst of the increasingly morally relativistic culture that we and our teenagers inhabit.

I really do believe that God’s fingerprints are all over every aspect of His Creation. As Romans 12:2 teaches us, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect,” (ESV).

What follows is an outline of my lesson on finding our identity in Christ from Ephesians 1:3-14. Please feel free to adjust the material to meet the needs of your group. I pray that God somehow uses this lesson to help a hurting teenager in your church while bringing glory and honor to His name above every name.

Letter to Parents

Hello Parents,

You have may have heard of the hit Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.” In the month it has been out, it has become the most watched show on Netflix, the most tweeted about show in the history of Twitter, and as of today has over 620,000 hashtag mentions on Instagram. It’s fair to say that the show is a pretty big deal is being widely watched by teenagers across America.

Based on the book with the same title, “13 Reasons Why” follows the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who recently committed suicide and left cassette tapes for her classmates, detailing the reasons why they were responsible for her committing suicide. The course of the show covers foul language, drug use, alcohol usage, gossip, sexual activity, social media, as well as graphic portrayals of two instances of rape and one suicide.

After watching the show in its entirety myself, it has become clear to me that any student who sees this show will definitely wrestle with its impact. “13 Reasons Why” unintentionally romanticizes suicide as a righteous alternative to facing, processing and healing from the trauma that young people face in today’s world. It also teaches viewers that revenge suicide is a glamorous endeavor. The truth is that suicide ends a life and wreaks untold devastation on the family, friends and peers who are left to try and pick up the pieces.

Youth Group Discussion

Because of both the popularity of the show and the seriousness of the topics brought to light in this series, I will be leading a conversation on suicide and self-harm at youth group on Sunday May 28th. It is not my intention for “13 Reasons Why” to be the focus of youth group this evening. However, we cannot ignore the pervasiveness of this show or miss the opportunity to discuss such a sensitive issue from a Christian perspective. As parents, I fully trust your judgment when decided whether or not to allow your teenagers attend youth group on the 28th.

If you have not yet asked your student about this show, I recommend doing so. It is important that students who may have seen this show have the support of parents, teachers and other adults after and even while watching this show. If your student has seen this show, I hope that by discussing this together, we can be a support to youth in our community. However, watching the show is not necessary to participate in the upcoming conversations. And for many youth, watching this show can cause more harm than good. In all our conversations, we will make certain that we are not recommending the show but rather helping to guide youth as they deal with critical issues. In fact, I would absolutely not allow a middle school student to watch this show and exercise caution with allowing high schoolers to view it.

But here’s tricky part. Like every human being, the second we tell our teenagers not to do something, they’ll want to do it. I suggest a healthy middle ground. Watch an episode or two with your spouse and then decide if you’ll allow your teens to watch it- I suggest with you. I, for one, know that I should be more intentional with knowing what media our teenagers are consuming.

The issues covered in “13 Reasons Why” are already ones that your teens face. In 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death for children and young adults ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tragically, suicide is a personal issue to me having lost two friends who chose to take their own lives. While it can be frightening at times to confront what the culture chooses to address, I really believe that God meets us in faith and equips us to point our teenagers to the grace and love that’s exclusively found in Christ alone while living, sharing and growing in Christian community. Rather than hesitating in uncertainty or overreacting in protective love, let’s partner together to address the real-life issues that your teens and their friends are facing.

Parent Support

If there is interest, I am willing to put together a parent discussion one evening around this show and the topics relating to it. If that is of use to you, please let me know.

If your kids are watching “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix right now (and millions of kids are) you have an opportunity for conversation that should not be missed. You’ll need to watch it to be able to talk about it in any kind of a meaningful way. It’s raw, painful, complicated and hard to watch. It’s believable and relatable and tons of kids are seeing their stories played out. Don’t watch it and freak out. Watch it and think. Watch it and pray. Watch it and evaluate your own family and community. Watch it and come up with some good open ended questions to spark some deep and meaningful conversation.

Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Why are kids so cautious about talking to adults about what’s actually going on in their lives?
  • In what ways is your school like the one in the show?
  • What are you doing to make your campus a safer place for kids who are struggling in ways that most people might not see?
  • What are some things I’m doing as your dad/mom that makes it harder for you to talk to me?
  • What would you do if you found out that one of your friends was spiraling toward despair and hopelessness?”

Please let me know if you have any concerns or questions. My office door is always open.

In Christ,


Additional Recommendations

  1. Watch this show on your own, if only just an episode or two, to know what your teenager is watching.
  2. If your teenager has already seen this show, ask them questions about what they saw and what they thought about it. If your student is willing, watching it together and discussing it afterward may even be a great option.
  3. Do not be afraid to talk about suicide or ask about suicide. Most mental health professionals agree that using the word suicide or asking about it doesn’t increase the likelihood of it but rather opens the door to discussing a very important and relevant topic. Depending on what resources you read, suicide is either the second or third leading cause of death in young people aged 10-24, so it is important to know the signs.

Lesson Plan

  1. Introduce Show & Topic
    1. Who’s heard of the show? Who’s seen it? What did you think?
    2. Hannah Baker commits suicide and leaves tapes explaining the 13 Reasons Why and who’s to blame
    3. Address the awkwardness of the topic and explain why it’s important to discuss what’s relevant to our culture
    4. Make it personal- Bryan had 2 friends commit suicide, one a good friend from his own youth group
  2. Identity Issue
    1. Who are you?
      1. Athlete, musician, fan, son, daughter, brother, sister, student, friend, etc.
        1. Do these categories truly define us?
    2. How do you define your value? Who defines your value?
      1. Everyone and everything in this world will disappoint us since we live in a sinful, fallen, broken world
    3. Instead of looking inward or outward, we must look upward
  3. Our Union with Christ- Ephesians 1:3-14
    1. All of our past, present and future sin is forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ
    2. Because of Christ, God sees us as His children
    3. As you go through the passage with students, have them fill in the chart below (note that the chart below has not exhausted the material in Ephesians 1, it’s just what my group uncovered).
      1. Past- 1:4-5
      2. Present- 1:7-9
      3. Future- 1:9-14
    4. This is how God sees you!! No ifs, ands or buts about it!!
    5. You’re signed, sealed, delivered, you’re His!!!
      1. How do we know?
        1. 13-14 tell us that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit who is our deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance
          1. Discuss seals in Middle Ages- penalty for breaking seal of King was death
          2. Discuss putting down a deposit on a car, how that holds it in your name until you can pay for the rest of the vehicle
            1. God is so much better, since Christ paid for us!!!
  4. Media Discernment
    1. What does all of this have to do with 13 Reasons Why and suicide?
    2. Genesis 1:27 teaches us that we’re made in the image of God
      1. This means we have inherent dignity, value and worth because God made us like Himself!
    3. Suicide is a sin, but not an unpardonable one
      1. Suicide referenced 6 times in Bible and it never meets with God’s approval
      2. Remember, your identity in Christ!
    4. Romans 12:1-2 teaches us to not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so we can test to discern God’s perfect, pleasing will
      1. How do we do this?
      2. The media we consume stokes the passions and desires of our hearts
    5. God’s fingerprints are all over Creation
      1. We have to discern the Truth from the lies
    6. 13 Reasons Why
      1. Truth- People who are depressed and suicidal need help
        1. 13 Reasons Why has drawn awareness to this issue
        2. Kids at school are terribly cruel to each other
      2. Lie- an absence of God
        1. Parents are totally clueless, adults can’t help you
        2. Revenge suicide is a noble alternative to choosing life
      3. We cannot mindlessly consume media that contradicts our worldview
        1. We can still enjoy shows if we keep them in their proper perspective
      4. Do my media choices bring me closer to God, or do they push me farther away from Him?
  5. Conclusion
    1. Where do we go from here?
    2. It’s a statistical reality that you or someone you know is dealing with depression and suicide
      1. You are not alone!
      2. God cares, and we as the Church of Jesus Christ care
        1. We cannot keep secrets when it comes to your safety
        2. We are not licensed counselors
        3. We can walk with you through this and get you the help you need
    3. Remember who you are in Christ! How God sees you!
      1. Wanna learn more?
        1. Read Ephesians 1-3 to learn how God sees you
        2. Read Ephesians 4-6 to learn how to live it out
        3. Ask a leader, we’re here for you!
      2. Close in prayer

Bryan Lees is the Director of Youth Ministry at Hope Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  A Master of Divinity Student at Reformed Theological Seminary Washington D.C., he’s spent the past ten years working with children and youth at various churches and summer camps. When he’s not cheering on his Green Bay Packers or buried in seminary books, he loves hanging out with kids teaching them about Jesus. Bryan infrequently BLOGS at and you can connect with him on FACEBOOK.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.