13 Reasons Why was a popular drama that debuted on Netflix in 2017. Based on a young adult novel, one produced a decade earlier by Jay Asher, the show was one of the streaming service’s more buzzworthy offerings that year.
The series is told in a series of flashbacks expressed from the point of view of Hannah (Katherine Langford), a teenager who has committed suicide. The show drew such a large audience in its first season that it was brought back for a second, even though the plot seemed to have resolved itself in the original episodes.
For all of the show’s popularity, there was some grumbling at the time that the first season aired. Critics accused the show of being irresponsible in its depiction of suicide. And now, a new government report indicates that those fears were well-founded.
There was a 28.9 percent increase in suicides by teenagers aged 10 through 17 in the month after 13 Reasons Why debuted in April of 2017, according to a study released by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This statistic was cited in a press release by the National Institute of Mental Health. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a subsidiary of the National Institute of Health, both funded the study and participated in the backing research.
The study found that more teenagers committed suicide in that month than they had in any month in the five years spanned by the research. The majority of the increase, the study said, was owed to young males. And while the study says that the spike in suicides was “associated” with the debut of the TV series, it doesn’t specifically state causation.
A journal titled PLOS ONE found a 10 percent increase in U.S. suicides in the four months after famed comedian Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014, per CNN.
Researchers could not determine whether watching "13 Reasons Why" actually influenced the suicide of any viewer of the Netflix series. But the correlation is troubling. https://t.co/bwGH32cfRY— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 30, 2019
“The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media,” Dr. Lisa Horowitz — a clinical scientist, and the author of the study — said in a statement. “All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises.”
The study does not recommend any type of government censorship of entertainment. However, it does suggest that creators follow a series of guidelines. Said guidelines urge against depicting the actual method of suicide used by fictional characters, and also encourage the inclusion of clear messaging indicating that help is available for those in need.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.