Suicide rate spiked for adolescent boys just after '13 Reasons Why' premiered: study
The New York Daily News - 5/1/2019
May 01-- May 1--Suicide rates for boys aged 10 to 17 spiked in the month following the March 2017 premiere of Netflix's controversial series, "13 Reasons Why," according to a study published Monday.
Based on Jay Asher's Young Adult novel of the same name, "13 Reasons Why" premiered to polarizing reactions.
The majority of the criticism cited the show's graphic depiction of high school student Hannah Baker's (Katherine Langford) suicide. Hannah left behind a series of tapes for those she believes contributed to her decision to end her life.
Netflix proceeded to add disclaimers and trigger warnings to each episode, while schools from Kansas to New Jersey issued letters to parents about the series' sensitive content.
Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital looked at the monthly and annual rates of suicide that had been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2013 to 2017, with ages spanning from 10 to 64. After separating the results by age group, they discovered that the month following the "13 Reasons Why" premiere saw 10- to 17-year-olds experiencing a suicide rate of 0.57 per 100,000. This marked the highest rate, among this age group, that had been studied throughout those five years.
An additional 195 suicides were reported in this group in the nine months following the series' release, standing out "from seasonal patterns alone," according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Despite the series centering on the events leading up to and following Hannah's, a teenage girl's, suicide, the spikes were mainly attributed to boys, while girls' rates were stable in the same time period. The boys' rate increased by more than 28% in the month following the premiere.
Though the study did not take suicide attempts into account, boys are more likely to die by suicide, while girls are more likely to report suicide attempts, according to the CDC.
"Youth may be particularly susceptible to suicide contagion," explained Jeff Bridge, the study's first author. He noted that contagion could 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."
Some viewers have taken issue with the perceived simplification of the factors that lead to Hannah's suicide.
Mental health professionals have been adamant in speaking out against the graphic depiction of Hannah's death, calling it, as Bridge said, a "how-to" for those who are in fact struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
In the wake of the show, John Ackerman, the study's co-author, asserted that Hannah's plan to not just record the tapes, but orchestrate the scavenger-hunt style in which they're issued, is "unrealistic for someone, especially a teenager in the midst of an emotional crisis," not least because of her perpetually "sarcastic, witty, and glib tone towards people she blames for her decision to end her life."
Ackerman further criticized the relatively vengeful plan, noting that adolescents shouldn't be encouraged that such a "shocking" and "permanent" act is the best way to convey their turmoil.
Shining a light on adolescent suicide, he added, could pose more harm than good when "mainstream media portrayals ... are often inaccurate and can reinforce stereotypes that lead to increased stigma and discrimination toward those with mental health struggles."
The series' second season similarly centers on mature and sensitive content. Another study, published last week, discovered that students who watched the entirety of season two were less inclined to report self-harm and suicidal thoughts than those who didn't watch the show at all, which may be due to the characters discussing suicide openly. Those who didn't watch the full second season, the results found, maintained a higher risk of future suicide.
Netflix issued a statement Tuesday, saying, "This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly."
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