Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’ Linked to Large Spike in Youth Suicides in the US
Nearly two years ago online streaming giant Netflix released the first season of their original series, “13 Reasons Why,” based on the novel of the same name. The series, aimed at the youth market, came under fire by mental health experts worried that its depiction of suicide would encourage viewers struggling with depression to consider taking their own lives.
Unfortunately, hindsight has proven these concerns to likely be true, with suicides among American teenagers increasing sharply alongside the show’s original release.
“13 Reasons Why” and its source material follow the events that unfold after high school student Hannah takes her own life, who leaves behind a collection of cassette tapes detailing how various people in her life contributed to her decision. Critics at the time said both its graphic depiction of Hannah’s suicide in addition to the dark romanticism surrounding her death in the series would have the potential to encourage viewers to fantasize about and perhaps follow through with self-harming or suicide.
Not long after the series was released, after becoming something of a sensation among young Netflix viewers, a spike in the number of online searches related to suicide and various methods of following through on such an act were observed in the United States. However, at the time, it was difficult to tell whether or not these users were merely curious “13 Reasons Why” viewers or were seeking support resources.
A newly published study by psychiatry researchers at the National Institutes of Health, however, says there is a likely link between the release of “13 Reasons Why” and increased suicide. In April 2017, when controlling for other trends and factors, researchers found a 29 percent increase in suicides among Americans aged 10 to 17 likely tied to the show and its promotion.
Though the study’s authors were hesitant to declare a definitive causal link between the Netflix series and this spike, they struggled to find other responsible factors. Over the five-year period examined, the period from April to the end of December of 2017 had higher numbers of youth suicides than statistical trends would have otherwise predicted. An estimated nearly 200 additional suicides were part of this increase.
Dr. Lisa Horowitz, the study’s lead author, says these results “should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to media,” emphasizing the need to be conscientious of depictions of suicide, be it in the news or in entertainment.
In response to criticism over the depiction of suicide in “13 Reasons Why,” Netflix added a message to every episode featuring information on how to seek help for those struggling with depression. This, however, was seen as little more than lip service to squelch a call to remove the show. Now we know that the show’s callous depiction of mental illness has likely contributed to dozens if not hundreds of young Americans taking their own lives.
Earlier this year, Netflix teased that a third season of “13 Reasons Why” is coming soon to the streaming service. Given not only the questionably tasteless nature of the series and its apparent real-world impact on its teenage audience, this is absolutely reckless.
This article was originally published on Care2 on May 7, 2019.