Ted Lasso Is Suicide Awareness Month’s Biggest Advocate
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and there’s no better piece of media raising awareness around suicide loss right now than “Ted Lasso.” At the 2022 Emmy Awards, “Ted Lasso” led all comedies for the second year in a row, earning three awards in the comedy series category. And that’s despite the fact that the irresistibly upbeat character viewers couldn’t get enough of in season one took a more serious turn in season two, peeling back layers of the lovable coach that no one expected and some just didn’t want.
Several viewers were outraged by the shift in Lasso’s character from bubbly to anxiety-ridden, even going as far as calling the writing “cliche” or “undermining” of Lasso’s iconic kindness. After all, why did the show have to create a traumatic backstory about Lasso’s dad to explain away his positivity?
The answer was lying in one of the show’s most poignant scenes, when Lasso says to his therapist in between tears, “Life, it’s hard. Real hard.”
One of Television's Most Complex Discussions
To say that the show was taking a more serious turn was an understatement, and I have to admit that, at first, I didn’t like it either.
My dad died by suicide in January 2017. Before watching “Ted Lasso’s” season two, I had seen quite a few conversations around suicide in mainstream media. Of course, the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade brought it into the limelight not even six months after my dad passed, but it seemed that Hollywood’s writers couldn’t get enough of the topic. “13 Reasons Why” came out on Netflix that same year, followed by “A Star Is Born,” “Mare of Easttown” and too many other popular TV shows and movies to count.
While I became used to managing the pain that these images caused when I watched them, I wasn’t expecting to see it in one of the “fun” shows I was watching as an escape. “Really, do we have to take it there?” I thought when watching Lasso talk about his father — who, apparently, took his life in the exact same way my father did.
But once I got past the initial discomfort of watching Ted Lasso struggle the way I did and still do, the more I appreciated the show’s complex way of handling the discussion of suicide. No longer was it just another dark footnote in a crime series. It was the reality of one of television’s happiest characters.
How Ted Lasso Plays a Role in Preventing Suicide
So, was it cliche? Just another way for Hollywood writers to push a hot-button topic in front of viewers? I don’t think so because the way the show walks a fine line between Ted Lasso’s positivity and anxiety is a reality I know all too well.
See, here’s the thing about being a survivor of suicide: It sets your bar for grief extremely high, for better or for worse. Because not many people understand the complexities of suicide loss, it can be extremely isolating, and only people who have been through this specific loss can truly relate to what you’re going through.
Hence, Lasso’s very understandable reason for not having talked about it much in his past. After all, he’s from the Midwest. Being from Kansas City myself, I know how easily these topics can be stigmatized — so much so that even the workers at the outpatient clinic my dad visited the week he took his life didn’t have the skillset to get through to him and get him the care he needed.
The benefit, if you can call it that, of dealing with this complex kind of grief is that life takes on new meaning because pretty much any struggle you face pales in comparison to the loss of your loved one. I find myself being more patient, more forgiving and, yes, more positive. And not as a textbook psychological coping mechanism. I genuinely feel more appreciative of the good moments in my life and want other people to feel that, too.
The reality is that life is full of struggles, and everyone has them. Maybe they don’t play out in suicidal thoughts, but for some people, they very much do, and being aware of that is part of understanding human nature. Ted Lasso is allowed to be both someone who makes cookies to put a smile on a friend’s face and someone having a panic attack in a locker room by himself, and it doesn’t take away from his life’s mission of coaching young men to become better versions of themselves. So, for this month especially, we could all take a note from Lasso’s playbook and live by his mantra: “I’m never going to let anyone get by me without understanding that they might be hurting inside.”
After all, the suicide stats in the U.S. back up a real need for this approach to helping one another. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that one person dies by suicide every 11 minutes in the U.S., with a total of about 46,000 dying by suicide in 2020. And the number of those who think about or attempt suicide is even higher with about 12.2 million having thought about it. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34.
Sure, suicide prevention is becoming more prevalent, especially with the recent launch of the 988 suicide crisis lifeline. For people struggling with mental illness, though, it takes a lot of strength to even make that initial call. That’s why shows like “Ted Lasso” that are trying to destigmatize not only suicide but also the aftermath that it can leave on the mental health of loved ones is one to be celebrated.
I only wish there were more Ted Lassos in this world to continue spreading suicide prevention awareness in a more realistic way.
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