Teen Suicides Spiked After ’13 Reasons Why’ Premiered on Netflix
“13 Reasons Why,” a story of teen character, Hannah, who commits suicide and leaves 13 cassette tapes explaining her decision, premiered on Netflix in April 2017. At the time, the show was both lauded for its honest portrayal of touchy topics such as suicide and sexual harassment, and disparaged for what some critics thought was a glorification of suicide that could negatively affect impressionable teen viewers.
Two years and two seasons later, researchers have found that 58 additional suicide deaths in teens aged 10 to 17 years old occurred immediately after the show’s release in April 2017, as compared to projections made by researchers based on scientific data they had collected during a five-year study analyzing suicide rates before and after the show, The Washington Post reported. In the nine months following the show’s release, there were 195 more teen suicide deaths than the expected average, according to a statement released by the study’s researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio in the United States. While the researchers are not saying that the show caused those suicides — the study doesn’t analyze who among those dead even watched the show — it does allude to a correlation between the show’s release and the spike in teen suicides.
“13 Reasons Why” was one of the most watched shows on Netflix at the time of its release, and the company’s executives have said it remains one of the most-binged shows on the platform, The Washington Post reported. Following worldwide critique of the show’s ability to glorify suicidal ideation — a large study had reported a 19% spike in suicide queries on Google when the show first came out — a month after the series’ release, Netflix inserted a trigger warning of sorts ahead of each episode and even created a resource page for those seeking mental health help. With a third season of the show on the way, however, advisories aren’t enough, researchers behind the news study argue.
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Parents need to surveil their teens and “monitor potential consequences on suicide rates in association with viewing the series,” John Ackerman, PhD, a co-author on the study, said in a statement.
“Youth may be particularly susceptible to suicide contagion, which 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,” Jeff Bridge, PhD, first author of the study, said in a statement. “Portrayals of suicide in entertainment media should avoid graphic detail of the suicide — which the series did not — and adhere to best-practice guidelines to reduce risk of subsequent suicide.”
Keeping that in mind, “13 Reasons Why” is a good opportunity to evaluate corporate responsibility. Netflix, for example, has been berated for more frequently featuring violent and gory material amid its top picks, compared to other streaming platforms, The Washington Post reported. While there may be high demand for sexually and violently explicit content, it doesn’t automatically have to mean that streaming sites like Netflix have to feed it, experts have argued.
As for Netflix’s response, The Washington Post reported a spokesman for the platform saying, “We’ve 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.”