A new study has made a horrifying confirmation of the rising number of teenage suicide-related deaths after the release of the controversial Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. This is the second study done this month that found a 13.3 percent rise in youth suicides around the time the show premiered.
Mental health researchers have raised an alarm over how suicide is suicide is portrayed in media because it can be “contagious”
The study findings published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal report that about 94 more kids aged 10-19 years died than expected during the show’s premier period. It is, however, unclear if the deceased persons actually watched the show. The study “does not provide definitive proof” that 13 reasons why which focuses on a teenage girl’s death by suicide, “is associated with harmful outcome.” The authors note in the paper.
The increase in deaths, however, got them concerned
Mental health experts have expressed their worries over depictions of suicidal behavior, with respect to some vulnerable age groups-, especially young adults. They argue that such exposure could lead to increased suicidal behavior and attempt to take one’s own life- an effect called suicide contagion. The people most at risk tend to be individuals who are already at risk of committing suicide and who in some way identify in their own way with the story’s focus on suicide.
Since the show was released, the mental health community has been extremely worried about the series’ portrayal of suicide and how it might affect young people considering that they easily identify with the main character. It might be easier to imitate her suicide
The show also managed to start a lot of conversations, some intended by the creators and others just by chance. Netflix commissioned a study about the show that found many teens who watched the show with their parents talked about t afterward.
“For many people, I think it’s an opportunity to learn a little bit more about risk factors for suicide, to talk to how to reach out for help,” says Megan Chesin, an associate professor at William Paterson University of New Jersey who also did her own separate study on the show.
The lead author of the paper, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler wrote that among the deaths of persons aged 10-19, the researchers found that proportionally, suicide rates in girls went up more than for boys.
As if in response to the gravity of the matter, Netflix ahead of the show’s season 2 premiere last year added warnings to the show and distributed more information about helplines to the viewers.
“Experts agree that there’s no single reason people take their own lives — and that rates for teenagers have tragically been increasing for years,” a Netflix spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Shows that focus on how characters cope with grief, suicidal ideation, and attempts could actually benefit real people. Niederkrotenthaler thinks that the industry can help reduce stigma on mental health issues and encourage more people to seek help instead of resorting to suicide. “The film industry can make an enormous contribution to suicide prevention,” he says. “The question here really is how this is done,” he added.