Suicide rates amongst children and teens ages 10 to 17 saw a statistically significant increase in the month following the release of the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” according to a scientific study published last week.
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After accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates, the peer-reviewed research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry showed there was a 28.9 percent spike in suicide rates among U.S. youth in April 2017. The number of deaths by suicide recorded during this month was greater than the figures seen in any single month during the five-year period (Jan. 2013 to Dec. 2017) examined by the researchers.
“The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media,” said study author Lisa Horowitz, a clinical scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The study was conducted by researchers at several universities, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and the NIMH, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the investigation.
The acclaimed Netflix series revolves around a 17-year-old high school student whose friend killed herself due to gossip, lack of support from friends and school, and due to sexual assault. The story follows the dead protagonist box of cassette tapes detailing the thirteen reasons why she ended her life.
Although many have been critical of the way suicide was portrayed, even "glamourized" especially for teen audiences, which are the main target. Its "teen" appeal is accompanied by the fact that Selena Gomez is the executive producer, whose coincidently 2017 “Fetish” music video portrays a young woman self-harming. The show also contains popular teenage musicians such as Gomez and Billie Eilish, featured on both soundtracks.
“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,” said Jeff Bridge, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s and the lead author of the research.
The researchers also analyzed deaths due to homicide during the same period, to assess whether other social or environmental events after the release of the show might have influenced suicide rates, yet found no significant changes in homicide rates following the release of the show reinforcing the relationship between the series and suicide rates.
However, this is not the first study that has claimed a correlation between the show’s premise with suicide amongst teens. A 2017 investigation showed that after the premiere of its first season search phrase queries online such as "how to commit suicide" increased by 26 percent above its referential and expected figure; "commit suicide" went up 18 percent; and "how to kill yourself" grew by nine percent.