New research points to a significant increase in suicide rates among teens and adolescents associated with the release of the television series “13 Reasons Why” (13RW). The study, published in April in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, showed a nearly 30% spike in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month immediately following the show’s March 2017 release.The study also suggests an association between the Netflix drama, which depicts the events surrounding a fictional teen's suicide, and increased youth suicides in subsequent months. The researchers found a higher youth suicide rate in the nine-month period following 13RW’s premiere—an estimated 195 suicides above what would have been expected based on historical data.
Study author Jeff Bridge says 13RW does not adhere to entertainment media best practice guidelines in its portrayal of suicide. "Youth may be particularly susceptible to suicide contagion,” says Bridge, Ph.D., director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research (CSPR) at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio; and a professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “It 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."
Forthcoming season brings renewed concern
Netflix plans to release the third season of 13RW later this year. Though the series has received some critical acclaim, many mental health experts—including those at the nation's children's hospitals—express concern for how the drama addresses the issue of teen suicide.
"It is possible to portray suicide in a way that cultivates hope by increasing awareness of available support for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts or behaviors," says John Ackerman, Ph.D., a co-author on the study and suicide prevention coordinator of CSPR. “However, this study demonstrates parents should be cautious about exposing youth to this series.”