Back in 2017 when the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why debuted — suicide prevention experts were worried that the show’s suicidal content who lead more vulnerable viewers more likely to adopt suicidal thinking and behavior.
Following the show’s debut, a new study revealed that those projections came true — as 195 additional suicides occurred in the nine months after Netflix released the first season of 13 Reasons Why.
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, did not a casual link between the show and the increase. That being said, researchers did use the approach of forecasting models to estimate suicide trends — comparing the suicide and homicide rates, the latter being influenced by social and environmental events.
The study’s analysis viewed the existing and anticipating trends for the suicide rate and found a spike after the show launched.
And in a separate study published in 2017 — they found an association between 13 Reasons Why and a spike in the internet searchers about suicide and suicide methods.
The critics who first questioned Netflix’s choice to show the protagonist’s suicide in detail reveal research indicating that such portrayals can have a “contagion effect” which can lead to a temporary rise in the suicide rate.
“I think that any media depiction of suicide should follow the recommended guidelines,” said the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Jeff Bridge. “The reason for that is to avoid any harm and, in particular, subsequent suicides.”
While Netflix has on occasion resisted criticism of its creative decisions — a few of the show’s staff and supporters argued that the depiction could raise awareness and act as a deterrent — a belief that is supported with zero scientific evidence.
It took an overwhelming outcry among experts, advocates and viewers to convince Netflix to include a detailed content warnings a the beginning of each episode.
For the second season of 13 Reasons Why, Netflix did release additional resoures to help guide conversations about the show’s difficult themes.
The third season is now in production.
“This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly,” a Netflix spokesperson shared with the New York Times.
Currently, the streaming service is looking into the new study.
Medical director of the child psychiatry consultation service at the University of Miami Health System, Nicole Mavrides, said that while the study should be taken with a “grain of salt,” it does provide clinicians like herself with useful information.
While Mavrides was not involved in the study, she did recommend that parents discuss 13 Reasons Why’s themes with a child who has viewed the show and inquire (if parents are concerned) if their children have had thoughts about suicide.
“This evidence does show us we need to be more cautious about what our kids and teenagers are watching,” she said.
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