The series “13 Reasons Why” is a cult favorite on Netflix. Nielsen statistics reveal that the show has millions of viewers, and many of these viewers are teenagers. In fact, nearly 75% of the “13 Reasons Why” audience is under 34 years old.
Despite the show’s numerous award nominations and positive reviews, however, there has been a very vocal backlash from parents and other concerned mental health experts who claim that the show glamorizes suicide.
Now, with the third season of “13 Reasons Why” set to be released later this year, the National Institutes of Health is warning that there has been a spike in suicides among teenage boys since the show aired on Netflix.
According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there is a correlation between when the show first aired in March 2017 and teenage suicide rates in the following month.
In April 2017, suicide rates among children aged 10–17 years of age increased by almost 30%, according to the study. Interestingly, the increase only occurred in young boys, suggesting that it may be of special importance for parents to talk to their sons about issues like depression and anxiety. Though suicide rates among girls increased, the change wasn’t enough to be statistically significant. The researchers also observed no significant changes in suicide rates for people between the ages of 18 and 64.
Of course, the study’s authors point out that they cannot say that “13 Reasons Why” is responsible for this increase, and they acknowledge that other factors may have been behind this jump in teenage suicide — in other words, their research shows correlation, not causation. In fact, another recent study found that young adults, ages 18–29, actually experienced a decrease in suicidal ideation and self-harm after watching the entire second season of the show. However, the newest study did find that the number of suicides for April 2017 was higher than any single month over a five-year period that the researchers analyzed, which suggests a connection.
Conflicting research outcomes aside, the conversation around the release of this show is a good reminder that the media our children consume can deeply impact them. Because of this, parents should be mindful of the shows their kids watch and be available to talk through these tough issues.
This is not the first time that research has linked the media to suicide increases. Past studies have shown that when suicides are covered in the media, it can have a “copycat effect” that increases suicide rates among those who have been exposed to the coverage. For example, in the four months covering the widely publicized death of Robin Wiliams by suicide, suicide rates jumped by 10 percent.
To help combat this effect, many concerned journalists are now attempting to cover such stories without triggering a suicide contagion. A new study suggests they can do so by making sure they don’t use unnecessarily graphic details and do not include the method of suicide in their media coverage.
“You really have to think of the story and say, ‘What are my responsibilities here, and where do they end?'” says the ethics committee chair at the Society of Professional Journalists, Andrew Seaman, to Time Magazine. “Do I really need to include the method? Do I need to go into detail here? In most cases, I don’t think you have to.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.