A spike in teen suicide has followed the 2017 debut of a Netflix drama about a young woman who takes her own life, according to a new study.
Researchers could not determine whether watching “13 Reasons Why” actually influenced the suicide of any viewer of the Netflix series. But the correlation is troubling. https://t.co/bwGH32cfRY
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 30, 2019
The series that debuted in March 2017 is based on the 2007 book by Jay Asher and tells the fictional story of a girl named Hannah Baker who took her own life and left behind 13 audio cassette tapes.
Over the next month, there was a 28.9 percent increase in suicide among young people aged 10 to 17, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
There were more suicides in the month following the show’s debut than any other month over the five years reviewed by researchers.
“The release of ‘13 Reasons Why’ was associated with a significant increase in monthly suicide rates among U.S. youth aged 10 to 17 years. Caution regarding the exposure of children and adolescents to the series is warranted,” the study’s conclusion read.
“The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media,” Lisa Horowitz, a staff scientist at the National Institue of Mental Health and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
“All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises,” she said.
this show needs to be cancelled. there’s no reason there should be a third season (or even a second season). https://t.co/dZoXdqEZ39
— gabby frost (@gabby_frost) April 30, 2019
Lead author Jeff Bridge, a suicide researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said the April 2017 suicide rate topped the rates of previous 19 years.
“The creators of the series intentionally portrayed the suicide of the main character. It was a very graphic depiction of the suicide death,” he said, adding that this alone can trigger suicidal behavior.
“Youth may be particularly susceptible to suicide contagion,” Bridge said, according to CNN.
Contagion can be “fostered by stories that sensationalize or promote simplistic explanations of suicidal behavior, glorify or romanticize the decedent, present suicide as a means of accomplishing a goal, or offer potential prescriptions of how-to die by suicide,” he said.
The study found the suicide spike was more prevalent among boys than girls.
A Netflix spokesman said it has “just seen this study and are looking into the research. This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly.”
However, at the time the show debuted, the National Association of School Psychologists issued a warning on the group’s website.
“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies,” the group warned.
“They may easily identify with the experiences portrayed and recognize both the intentional and unintentional effects on the central character.”
In a blog post at the time, John Ackerman, suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital warned against the show.
“It should also concern parents that ‘13RW’ hooks into a common adolescent fantasy: ‘You’ll be sorry when I am gone!’ By portraying grief-stricken friends and family who wished they had treated Hannah differently, ‘13RW’ suggests Hannah’s suicide served its intended purpose. It promotes the idea that something permanent and shocking is the only way to make others understand the depth of one’s pain and what others have done to cause it,” he wrote.
“We should instead be helping our kids recognize that suicidal thoughts are typically a sign of intense emotional pain requiring active self-care, counseling, and the support of others, rather than the means to obtaining empathy or exacting revenge.”
“Depicting suicide as a natural consequence of trauma or stressors is inaccurate. Popular media often suggest a cause-and-effect relationship between negative events such as bullying, sexual assault, or family conflict and suicide. This is misinformation,” he added.
“Parents should be cautious about exposing youth to this series,” Ackerman said in a recent statement. “With a third season of the series expected to air soon, continued surveillance is needed to monitor potential consequences on suicide rates in association with viewing the series.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.
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