The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has drawn plenty of fire for its depiction of teen suicide, including complaints the series would inspire young people to take their own lives. Now, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health shows a 28.9% increase in suicide among Americans ages 10-17 in the month following the show's release two years ago.
The study, published recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, reports the number of suicides in the month after the debut was greater than any single month over the five-year period examined. Over the next 11 months, there were 195 more youth suicides than historical trends would suggest.
“The graphic portrayal of the main character's death and the way she is memorialized in the show is sending the wrong message,” said lead author Jeff Bridge, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in a news release. “This study should serve as a wake-up call to those creating media that goes against guidelines for how suicide should be depicted.”
The show focuses on the aftermath of a young woman's death, but researchers found the suicide rate increase was mostly driven by boys.
“If you suspect your child is depressed or is having thoughts of suicide, you should ask the direct question,” Bridge said. “ 'Are you thinking of killing yourself?'
“The research shows that asking about suicide does not put the thought in a child's head. Rather, it's a question that can save lives,” he said. “If the answer is 'yes,' knowing where to turn for support and 24/7 crisis resources is critical. These conversations need to start early in life. When we have conversations about physical health, we should begin to have conversations about mental health, as well.”
The Netflix show's third season is expected to be released this summer.