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Study Suggests Rise in Suicide Among Kids and Teens After Netflix Drama '13 Reasons Why'

04-30-2019
Netflix (Photo: Netflix Website)

Suicide is at a 19-year-high among kids ages 10 to 17, and some are suggesting it's tied to the release of the Netflix drama "13 Reasons Why" which showed a girl ending her life. 

Researchers admit they cannot prove the connection, but they do say there were 195 more youth suicides than would have been expected in the nine months after the show came out in March 2017. 

The lead author of the findings, Jeff Bridge at Nationwide Children's Hospital, says the creators of the series intentionally portrayed the suicide of the main character with a very graphic depiction of her death. He says seeing that alone can trigger suicidal behavior.    

The researchers utilized the data from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on deaths in Americans aged 10 to 64 from January 2013 through December 2017. While adolescent suicide rates were higher, the Associated Press reports researchers found no change in suicide rates for those 18 and older after the show was released. 

Sociologist Anna Mueller of the University of Chicago stated the results add to evidence that descriptive media depictions of suicide can negatively influence young people. 

Lisa Horowitz, a co-author and researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, noted that suicide is the second leading cause of death for US teens and called it "a major public health crisis." She went on to state the new results highlight the necessity of parents and other adults connecting to young people.

"Start a conversation, ask how are they coping with the ups and downs of life, and don't be afraid to ask about suicide," she said. It's a myth that just asking might be a trigger, Horowitz said.

The first season of the Netflix show included warning messages with some of the episodes and offered a website with crisis hotlines. In the second season, the show's actors gave advice on where to seek help about suicide. The series' third season is expected later this year.

A Netflix spokesman stated the new study conflicts with University of Pennsylvania research that finds fewer suicidal thoughts among young adults who watched the entire second season than among non-viewers.

"We've just seen the study and are looking into the research," he said. "This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly."

Bridge acknowledged the study does not include whether a person who died watched the show and researchers could not account for other influencing factors. 

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