Netflix's "13 Reason's Why" associated with increase in teen suicide
May is mental health awareness month, and as a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with teens (aging from pre-teens as young as 10 and on) and their families, I wanted to bring attention to the scary topic of teen suicide that has many parents concerned.
After the series premiere of the Netflix show 13 Reason’s Why in March of 2017 (it’s now in season two of the series and a third season is expected to be released sometime this year), there was an uptick in talk about teen suicide that not only made it’s way into school hallways and social media, but into my office.
For those who aren’t aware of the show, it tells the story of a young girl who kills herself and leaves behind a series of 13 tapes detailing the reasons why she chose to end her life.
Parents were asking if they should be concerned about their child watching the show — Would the show have an impact on their mental health? Does the show encourage or romanticize suicide? It led to many hard and direct conversations about suicide and how to cope with such triggering content.
Interestingly enough, just last month, the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry published a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health that highlighted the show’s impact on teen suicide rates.
In fact, the show was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the show’s release, after accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates.
> The number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 was greater than the number seen in any single month during the five-year period examined by the researchers.
> When researchers analyzed the data by sex, they found the increase in the suicide rate was primarily driven by significant increases in suicide in young males.
> While suicide rates for females increased after the show’s release, the increase was not statistically significant.
> The researchers found that the rates of suicide for 10- to 17- year-olds was significantly higher in the months of April, June, and December 2017 (an additional estimated 195 suicide deaths) than were expected based on past data.
> The observed suicide rate for March 2017 — the month prior to the release of 13 Reasons Why — was also higher than forecast. The researchers note that the show was highly promoted during the month of March, exposing audiences to the show’s premise and content through trailers.
> The researchers did not find any significant trends in suicide rates in people 18 to 64 years of age.
The findings highlight the necessity of using best practices when portraying suicide in popular entertainment and in the media.
> The findings of this study add to a growing body of information suggesting that youth may be particularly sensitive to the way suicide is portrayed in popular entertainment and in the media.
> This increasing recognition of entertainment and media influence has led a variety of groups, such as National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the World Health Organization, and reporting on suicide.org, to create best practices for talking about and portraying suicide on screen.
> These guidelines recommend, for example, that the entertainment media should avoid depicting the suicide method used.
> The entertainment media are also urged to convey the message that help is available and to include accurate information about how people can seek help.
Please Know: Suicidal thoughts or actions (even in very young children) are a sign of extreme distress and should not be ignored.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, contact the National Suicide prevention line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Text Line: text “home” to 741741.
Learn more about ways you can help someone who might be at risk for self-harm.
Bridge, J. A., Greenhouse, J. B., Ruch, D., Stevens, J., Ackerman, J., Sheftall, A. H., Horowitz, L. M., Kelleher, K. J., & Campo, J. V. (in press). Association between the release of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why and suicide rates in the united states: An interrupted times series analysis. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Release of ‘13 Reasons Why’ Associated with Increase in Youth Suicide Rates.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 29 Apr. 2019, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/release-13-reasons-why-associated-increase-youth-suicide-rates.