13 Reasons Why started as a book and then made it’s way to a Netflix series. From the summary:
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.
The series on Netflix generated no shortage of controversy when it graphically depicted the suicide of Hannah. At the time, there was concern that the depiction of suicide may encourage other vulnerable young adults to do the same.
A new report suggests those fears were well founded.
The brutal findings, courtesy of a study conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:
The Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the shows release, after accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates, according to a study published today in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry…The number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 was greater than the number seen in any single month during the five-year period examined by the researchers.
The study notes that suicide rates spiked during the promotion for 13 Reasons Why and in the aftermath of its immediate release, and spiked particularly among young males. Homicide rates – which are influenced by similar cultural and sociological factors – did not show a spike during the same time.
As this Vox article notes, this increase is likely tied to the concept of suicide contagion – the idea that one suicide will encourage more. At least one suicide expert advised Netflix not to release the show:
His fears sprang from the problem of suicide contagion, which is what it’s called when media attention focused on one prominent suicide leads other people who are struggling with suicidal ideation to try to kill themselves. It’s a danger that young people are especially vulnerable to.
To be fair, there are certain concerns with the conclusion of this study. This includes the it’s design (which makes it impossible to rule out other sources) and the fact that boys drove the rise in suicide (girls would have been more expected, given the fact that the lead character is a girl).
This tragic result reiterates an important point: The media and entertainment industries have a moral obligation to be careful with how they discuss and depict suicide. ReportingOnSuicde.org gives some helpful advice. These include:
- Avoid glamorizing the death, sensational headlines and showing pictures of grieving and weeping families.
- Describing the suicide as sudden or “without warning.”
- Treating suicide as any other crime.
- Showing or describing the method of death in graphic detail.
- Using appropriate language, including “died by suicide,” “completed” or “killed himself” INSTEAD of “successful/unsuccessful.”
I never watched 13 Reasons Why, but from what I have read, the show’s depiction of Hannah’s suicide violates all of these rules.
Between the research already done and the study which came out last week, it’s clear that 13 Reasons Why is contributing to an ongoing massive spike in suicide rates – and one that is particularly acute among young adults.
The show should be pulled off the air.