When Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, which deals with teen suicide, bullying, drunk driving and rape in graphic detail, premiered in 2017, some mental health experts warned that the show could pose health risks for certain young people, especially those with suicidal thoughts. Now, a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health, suggests those concerns may have been justified.
Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that the month following the March 2017 debut of the series, suicides spiked by 28% by boys ages 10-17, the highest rate of the five-year study period in the age group. The nine months after the show’s release saw an extra 195 deaths by suicide in this age group, more than expected given historical trends.
Researchers stressed that the study could not prove causation for the suicide spike, saying some unknown third factor might have been responsible for the increase. However,citing the strong correlation, they cautioned against exposing children and adolescents to the series.
“Few believe this type of media exposure will take kids who are not depressed and make them suicidal,” said lead author Dr. Victor Hong, medical director of psychiatric emergency services at the University of Michigan. “The concern is about how this may negatively impact youth who are already teetering on the edge.”
Netflix does not release viewership data, so it’s not known how many people actually watch the show.
“This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly,” a Netflix spokesperson said in response to the latest study. The internet network also noted that this study conflicts with last week’s study from the University of Pennsylvania which found that students who watched the entire second season were less likely to purposely injure themselves or seriously consider suicide — even when compared with those who did not watch the show.
Netflix also reminded that the series carries an advisory card with a cast message that plays at the start of seasons one and two, and individual cards on specific episodes that direct to its resource site at 13ReasonsWhy.info. In addition, Netflix offers parental controls that enable members to designate a Pin Code in order to access a specific television show or movie. You can read Netflix’s advisory message card below.
“13 Reasons Why is a fictional series that tackles tough, real-world issues taking a look at sexual assault, substance abuse, suicide and more. By shedding a light on these difficult topics, we hope our show can help viewers start a conversation. But if you are struggling with these issues yourself, this series may not be right for you or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult. And if you ever feel you need someone to talk with, reach out to a parent, a friend, a school counselor or an adult you trust, call a local helpline or go to 13reasonswhy.info. Because the minute you start talking about it, it gets easier.”