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Netflix teen suicide drama preceded dramatic increase in youths killing themselves

Doug Mainwaring Doug Mainwaring Follow Doug

April 30, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Researchers report a dramatic uptick and sustained increase in youth suicide after Netflix launched a controversial series about a girl who commits suicide.

While the study draws attention to a correlation between the debut of the series 13 Reasons Why and the increased incidence of suicide committed by young people, the study was not designed to prove causality. 

The researchers found that in the month following the release of 13 Reasons Why in March 2017, suicide among American youths aged 10–17 spiked by nearly a third (28.9%)  and remained significantly higher for the remainder of the year.  

All told, the report found that an estimated 195 additional youth suicides occurred from April until December 2017 compared to both previous projections and past data. 

The study, conducted by The Center for Suicide Prevention and Research and supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), warns that while “responsible portrayals of suicide have the potential to promote awareness and help-seeking behaviors,” media depictions “also have the potential to do harm.”  

“Direct or indirect exposure to suicide increases the risk of subsequent suicidal behavior, known as ‘suicide contagion,’” according to the report. Young people appear to be especially susceptible to the contagion as they identify with a character such as the one portrayed in the show.

13 Reasons Why is based on the bestselling book of the same name and tells the story of   a high school student, Hannah, who kills herself after she has recorded 13 audio tapes giving thirteen reasons she has chosen suicide, citing everything from gossip to sexual assault to finding little support from her friends. 

The series “gives an inaccurate depiction of suicide as a natural consequence of life events, glosses over mental-health issues and portrays nearly all adults as out-of-touch, leaving youth with nowhere to turn for help,” chief author of the study Jeff Bridge told The Columbus Dispatch.

“The suicide contagion is 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,” according to the report.

Adding to the impact of the release of 13 Reasons Why was Netflix’s decision to release all thirteen episodes simultaneously, which enabled binge-watching of the series, one episode after another, at the height of its popularity. 

The report noted that binge-watching may have had “a powerful influence on adolescents, whose brains are still developing the ability to inhibit risky behaviors and emotions.”

“Suicide has emerged as the second leading cause of death for children ages 10–19 years old in the United States,” according to The Center for Suicide Prevention and Research (CSPR) at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. 

CSPR further notes that nearly one in six teens has seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.

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