After the release of the controversial Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, scientists found a 13.3 percent increase in teenagers due to suicide. This is the second study released this month that showed an increase in suicides among young people around the time the show premiered. As a result, researchers in the field of mental health are more than ever concerned about the way in which suicide is portrayed in the media – because suicide is contagious & # 39; contagious & # 39; could be.
About 94 more children aged 10 to 19 died than expected during the period of this study, that was published this week in JAMA Psychiatry. Because there is no way to tell if the people who died of suicide during this period actually watched the show, the study "offers no definitive proof" that 13 reasons why, which focuses on the death of a teenage girl by suicide, "is associated with harmful consequences," the authors note in the newspaper. However, they found the increase in death & # 39; concerning & # 39 ;.
Experts are concerned about people being exposed to images of suicide or suicidal behavior, because for some vulnerable groups – especially young adults – that exposure can lead to increased suicidal behavior or suicide attempts, an effect known as suicide pollution. The people who are most at risk are people who are already at risk, and who could identify somehow with the focus of a suicide story.
From the moment the show was released, the mental health community was extremely concerned that the series & # 39; suicide rendering could result in people – especially young people who identify with the main character – imitating her suicide, the newspaper's main author , Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, told The edge in an email. Among the deaths of people aged 10-19, Niederkrotenthaler and his colleagues found that the suicide rates among girls had increased more than among boys.
Niederkrotenthaler, head of the Suicide Research & Mental Health Promotion Department at the Medical University of Vienna, was frustrated by the show and worried about teenagers who were already vulnerable. "It just seemed like a missed opportunity – to see this talented team of filmmakers and actors / actresses who said they wanted to start a conversation about suicide prevention and mental health." Says Niederkrotenthaler. "What they actually started was another conversation: a conversation about the responsibilities of the entertainment industry in the safe representation of suicide."
This research comes just a few weeks later a similar investigation When we watch the show, we also see a rise in suicide rates for young people in 2017, although it did not find the same proportional increase in suicide rates among girls. Both studies used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but used different methods to analyze the data. This more recent investigation focused on suicide mortality from April 2017 to June 2017, when the show was still actively discussed on Twitter and Instagram. (Netflix does not release viewing figures, so the researchers turned to social media to find out when people were watching.) The researchers compared that data with models based on data on suicide rates in the United States from 1999-2017, and found the increase in the 10-19 age group. There was no increase in people aged 20-29 or 30 and older.
The show succeeded in starting many conversations, some of which were intended by the makers, others not. A study commissioned by Netflix discovered that many teenagers and parents who watched the show talked about it later. "For many people, I think it's a chance to learn a bit more about risk factors for suicide, to talk about how to get help," says Megan Chesin, associate professor at William Paterson University of New Jersey, who also studied 13 Reasons WhY. Her work showed that university students who watched the show learned a lot about risk factors for suicide and that they showed no increase in suicidal thoughts. Chesin was not involved in this study or the study funded by Netflix.
"But for some people," she added, "if they are vulnerable to suicide because they identify with the character who died by suicide, or for some reason, they have a history that makes them more vulnerable to commit suicide, this could be a presentation that is harmful and increases their chances of trying. "
Ahead of being season 2 premiere last year, Netflix added warnings to the show, and more information distributed about help lines and resources for viewers. "Experts agree that people can't just live their own lives – and that teen rates have been tragically rising for years," a Netflix spokesperson said in an email statement.
Shows that the focus is on how fictional people deal with serious problems such as suicidal thoughts, attempts or sadness, and shows that getting help can benefit real people, says Niederkrotenthaler. "The film industry can make a huge contribution to suicide prevention," says Niederkrotenthaler. He thinks the industry can help reduce the stigma surrounding psychological problems and encourage people to seek help for suicidal thoughts. "The question here is real how this has happened, "he added.