Studies Reveal An Increase In Rate Of Teen Suicides After '13 Reasons Why' Aired

Studies Reveal An Increase In Rate Of Teen Suicides After '13 Reasons Why' Aired

Dr. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler says if "there are negative experiences with help-seeking in the past, it is always worth to give it another chance." The right thing is to do is "to look for help and speak with trusted adults."

The popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, a series revealing why a 17-year-old girl committed suicide, aired at the end of March in 2017. Soon, the popular streaming channel was caught under fire by several suicide prevention organizations for being irresponsible with such a sensitive topic. According to CNN new research hints at a "suicide contagion", caused by this series, among young people. As feared, there has been a 13% estimated increase in suicide among teens and children aged between 10 to 19.



Researchers found this increment in the number of suicides happened just three months after the show was released. According to a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, this assessment was determined to be similar to 94 other suicides that were expected.  Dr. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, the head of the Suicide Research & Mental Health Promotion Unit at the Medical University of Vienna and the lead author of this study told CNN via mail, "No effects were seen in other age groups."


Many called for a nationwide survey to determine the death toll post the release of the series but Niederkrotenthaler explained, "This had not been possible until the recent release of 2017 suicide data by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." Along with his colleges, Niederkrotenthaler analyzed CDC data and compared the death statistics from before and after the release of the show. They also did a thorough sweep of social media sites like Twitter and Instagram to learn how much attention this series was getting.  


After these studies, they came to the conclusion that public interest in the show reached its peak in April 2017 but it was negligible at best after June 2017. Niederkrotenthaler and his colleagues also noted, "a clear increase in suicides among 10 to 19-year-old males and females," just a short while after 13 Reasons Why was released. Even after removing all the seasonal upticks that usually happens during this season the deaths were more than the regular average. Niederkrotenthaler estimated "66 suicides more than expected among males, which is an increase of 12.4%, and 37 more suicides among females, which is an increase of 21.7%" between April 1, 2017, and June 30, 2017, the period of strongest social media interest."



He further added, "The fact that this association was only seen in the demographic group that was similar to the 17-year-old film character Hannah Baker, and the stronger proportional increase among girls, as well as the absence of any changes in suicides in other age groups, is clearly consistent with a possible imitation effect." Explaining the effect of imitation he elaborated that kids could identify themselves a lot more to the main character who took her own life. "Kids who are vulnerable to suicide, for example, those who are having suicidal thoughts and identify with the protagonist Hannah Baker, are at some risk if they do not reach out for help," he explained.



Niederkrotenthaler suggested speaking to a "trusted adult" or simply calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 could be helpful. While determining if the people who committed suicide did, in fact, watch the show or not seemed impossible he also informed that many US emergency suicide cases were reported which clearly showed an increase in the self-harm among teens right after the series aired on Netflix. Another study published last month revealed a revealed the same outcome. In addition to these findings, they also found a 28.9% increase in suicide among boys soon after the show premiered. 



During this time, Netflix released a statement: "This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly." Just after Niederkrotenthaler's study was published they(Netflix) stated that both these studies, "don't explain the increases [in suicides] for girls in November 2016 and boys in March 2017 -- before the show had launched. Experts agree that there's no single reason people take their own lives -- and that rates for teenagers have tragically been increasing for years." 



Supporting this statement made by the streaming site, the creator and executive producer of the series,  Brian Yorkey, and  Dr. Rebecca Hedrick, a psychiatrist, and series adviser wrote in a column in The Hollywood Reporter this week that the " unflinching depictions of the hurt teens can go through — anxiety, bullying, assault, depression, and suicide — it helped lift the stigmas young people increasingly experience growing up today." It further explains how they aimed at shedding "light on these same issues, helping teenagers understand they are not alone and don't have to suffer in secret." Moreover, "at every step, including for every script of the series, the writers and producers worked with psychiatrists, experts in sexual assault as well as bullying, school counselors and teachers to ensure that even the most challenging scenes were grounded in reality."



One can also draw a positive conclusion that came after the premiere of the show and there are independent studies that support the creators. One such study published by Yorkey and Hedrick read, "We've heard from people all around the world that the series gave them the courage to talk about issues they'd struggled to discuss before, including with their own families." While still, Niederkrotenthaler's new study contains "compelling evidence" that the series itself may have caused an increase in suicides there's no definitive conclusion to it. 



Finally, the problem people seemed to have with the series was its casual consequence of typical life problems during the teen years, and trying to get any source of help "seemed futile," Niederkrotenthaler said. "Even if there are negative experiences with help-seeking in the past, it is always worth to give it another chance. It is always the right thing to look for help and speak with trusted adults."


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