This past spring, Leticia Ochoa Adams and her family were shattered by Leticia’s oldest son, Anthony’s, suicide. Leticia, a contributing writer at Aleteia and frequent guest on SiriusXM’s Jennifer Fulwiler Show, chose immediately to write and speak honestly about her son’s struggles and her own grief in the hope of helping other families.
Shortly after Anthony’s suicide, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” premiered, quickly underscoring the need for parents and children to have open discussions about suicide and its warning signs. Leticia has three other children: Dan, 18, Gabe, 17 and Felecity 15. They all generously offered to share their varying opinions on the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which returns for a second season in 2018.
Leticia’s story, in her own words
I got pregnant with Anthony when I was 16 years old, so we basically grew up together. His biological father didn’t have much to do with his life, but Anthony always knew who he was and that it was not his fault that Homer didn’t make the effort to be a part of his life. I married Ben when Anthony was three and they were really close. Ben is who Anthony considered his dad.
Anthony was always mature for his age. He had to be. Our life was not stable, Ben had his issues with drugs and I had not dealt with any of my childhood trauma, so that made things difficult for Anthony growing up. He had to help take care of his younger siblings as well as help take care of me. I didn’t realize just how much that affected him.
In April of 2016 my uncle passed away. He was like a father to both Anthony and me. They were very close so that death was really difficult for Anthony. Shortly after my uncle’s funeral Anthony had a complete mental break. From that point on he was not the same Anthony that we all knew. I tried everything I could think of to help him. I talked him into go to the hospital, but he refused to be admitted even though we were told he was having some kind of psychotic episode. I tried to get him to talk to priests, therapists or anyone else who could help him. He refused all of my help. We got into huge fights, I stopped talking to him for a month or so and our relationship was very rocky. I missed him so much. Finally, he started working where I worked and began therapy. He seemed to be getting better and then my uncle’s wife died in February of this year. Anthony’s delusions started again, he began to look different and I feared for the worst. I pleaded with him to get help. I did everything short of trying to have him committed.
On Tuesday March 7th he walked into my house and asked to stay with us. He had dinner with us, asked his brothers to watch a movie with him and seemed to be very agitated, but at least he was in our home and safe. Or so we thought. The next day he did a job for my husband. Then he sat with me and talked to me about coming back to the Church, marrying his girlfriend and trying to get his life together. He asked for the number I had been trying to give him to a counselor I knew. He called them five times before his suicide.
The last time I saw Anthony, he was sitting on the couch writing in a spiral [notebook]I had given him. I told him I would be right back and I left. He called me while I was gone and asked how long I would be. I told him that I wouldn’t be long and he asked if he could use my car to go to the parish when I got back. I said yes and he said, “I love you mom, goodbye.” I don’t know if he knew what he was going to do when he called me, but part of me feels like he just wanted to say goodbye.
We found him three hours later. The next few months are a blur to me. I can never express the loss, trauma and grief that this has brought to my family. It feels as if a bomb went off in our life. We all miss Anthony so much. All of us agree that we would have dropped everything if we had known what was going on in his mind that day. All he had to do was say it out loud. Depression is like waves of the ocean; by the time he knew he was in trouble, it was too late. If you suffer from suicidal thoughts, do not wait. You are someone’s Anthony and they will drop everything to help you: ask for it.
One family’s opinion on “13 Reasons Why” — and Why Not
Q: Did you read the book before seeing the TV series?
Felecity (15): Nope. Apparently it’s better than the show, and I would read it if I got the chance, just to have a well-rounded opinion.
Gabe (17): I did not read the book, nor did I ever see the TV series.
Dan (18): No, I didn’t read the book.
Q: Did you hesitate to watch the series after Anthony’s suicide? What made you decide to watch it?
Felecity (15): Sort of. I looked up the content warnings and formed my opinions based on that. I knew the suicide portrayed in the show wasn’t the same as Anthony’s. I knew mental illness wasn’t portrayed the same I had experienced with my family. I decided to watch it because I was curious about the concept. I went in with caution, definitely, but knew it wouldn’t be the same.
Dan (18): I decided to finish through with the series to see if I could handle it. I do recommend it to people I think it is a good show and talking piece. I think the only real problem with the show was glorifying suicide and the character who committed suicide and put too much blame on the people around her and not enough on her.
Q: Would you warn a friend or classmate against watching this series?
Felecity (15): Yep, and I have. When it was getting popular I saved the content warnings and gave them to anyone who wanted to watch them. If I had a friend that wasn’t in a good place, I suggested they wait to watch it/don’t watch it at all.
Gabe (17): I wouldn’t warn anyone against watching it because the director has the creative freedom to do whatever he/she wants without fear that someone should slander their product without even seeing it.
Dan (18): I would warn them if I thought they were sensitive.
Q: Would you recommend this series to anyone?
Felecity (15): Not really. It’s not important. It’s pretty much what you would expect it to be, and you can get the message without watching the show. They treat suicide carelessly, they treat sexual assault carelessly, they treat self-harm carelessly, they treat mental illness carelessly. The show is obviously made without actual mentally ill/suicidal people in mind. If someone wants to watch it, all I can do is give them a warning, but I would never suggest it.
Q: What would you say to a friend or classmate who confided that they had thoughts about suicide?
Felecity (15): The first thing I tell them is to tell someone who can help them. Parents, teachers, IRL [“in real life”] friends, anyone who can be with them physically at the moment. It depends on the person, but usually I would either tell them how valuable every life, and every experience is, or I would tell them about my own experience with suicide. Other than that I would just keep talking to them, about anything. Most of my friends are online, so keeping them talking is me just making sure they don’t do anything to hurt themselves.
Gabe (17): Anthony himself confided his suicidal thoughts in me, and if I could go back I would tell him he is free to make any choice he wants, but suicide is always the wrong choice. That is about all I could say, past that it’s in their hands. It’s tough to deal with someone who is both the perpetrator and victim of a bad choice, but it always boils down to our own lack of power in relationships. There will never and can never be 13 reasons why someone kills themselves, because there is just one. The one and only reason someone will kill themselves is because they chose to; no one forced their hand. No one should feel required to bear the burden of guilt for a suicide.
Q: If you had a chance to speak to the producers of this series, what would you want them to know?
Felecity (15): The way they handled mental illness and suicide in particular was careless, uneducated, and they shouldn’t have made the show.
Gabe (17): I would probe and investigate to see if their show holds true to the message of forgiveness that I believe is so important when speaking about suicide. Not just forgiveness of ourselves but of the victim as well. I would want them to know that forgiveness is the message they should be teaching.
Leticia: Making suicide about revenge doesn’t do anything to prevent it. In fact, that is how you encourage it as an option. Every survivor of suicide I have talked to already lives with life-crippling guilt. To portray that as a good thing is wrong on so many levels and it doesn’t help anyone with depression to get help. It makes suicide look like a valid solution, and it isn’t.
Q: Leticia, as a mom, would you recommend this series to anyone?
Leticia: I have not watched it, so I’m not really sure. I would agree with all of my children and say that I would warn people about it and my opinion but at the end of the day, people have to make their own choices.
Q: Do you wish that your teens had not watched it?
Leticia: I wished they had not watched it, but it did give us a springboard to discuss suicide and depression. It wasn’t easy to talk about because mostly we talked about Anthony. I got to hear my children’s perspectives and listen to what they had to say. I’m pretty proud of the well-rounded conversation we had about it.
Q: What do you want parents to know about this series?
Leticia: It does nothing to help people with mental illness, but you can’t stop your kids from watching it or knowing about it so my suggestion is to talk to them about it. More importantly, listen to them and what they think about it. Even if their answers scare you, just listen. Kids are often talked at, but rarely are they listened to. That’s another reason why I suggested people to ask my teens about this series, so they could have a voice and be heard. If there is anything good that can come from this series, it’s giving parents a chance to hear what their children think about mental illness.
Moms, always listen to your instincts. If you think there is something wrong, there is. You will never regret overreacting but you will regret all the things you could have done. I know I did everything I could for Anthony and I still have regrets, but not doing everything isn’t one of them. You know your children. They lived in your womb. If you sense that there is something wrong, trust that.
Talk with your family about this series
Earlier this year, Lisa Hendey shared an extensive list of resources for parents to help them discuss the issues behind 13 Reasons Why with their children. If you have found other helpful resources, feel free to list them in the comments box.
We are grateful to Leticia, Dan, Gabe and Felecity for their honest and generous responses, and for their willingness to continue the conversation on this difficult topic in order to help other families.
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS