Study: 13 Reasons Why associated with significant increase in youth suicide

A new study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that the hit Netflix show 13 Reasons Why was correlated with a 28.9% increase in youth suicide in the month following its release. The researchers examined suicide data from the CDC, looking at annual and monthly numbers of deaths from 2013 to 2017. They found that number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 (the month following the first season’s release) was greater than the number seen in any other month during that five year period. 

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This study utilized a quasi-experimental design, and thus a direct causal link cannot be established. Although the study could not completely rule out the potential influence of other factors, the researchers also analyzed homicide death rates for the same period in order to determine whether there were other social or environmental factors that might have influenced the increase in suicide rates (homicide and suicide are often influenced by similar factors). There was no significant change in homicide rates following the release of 13 Reasons Why, suggesting that the effect was limited to suicidal behavior. 

In absolute numbers, the researchers estimated an increase of 195 additional adolescent suicide deaths following the show’s release. These findings bolster previous studies about the impact of 13 Reasons Why and lend credibility to the concerns expressed by mental health professionals and suicide prevention advocates about the show’s portrayal of suicide. 

As Netflix charges ahead with a 3rd season of 13 Reasons Why (to be released in the coming months), it is important to recognize that adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to irresponsible media portrayals of suicide. Research shows that it is possible to portray suicide in a way that cultivates hope by increasing awareness of available supports for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts or behaviors. We at Youth United are constantly striving to start healthy conversations about suicide in the media. Hope, help, resilience, and recovery are very real things–it’s time that our media conversations about suicide start reflecting that.

Bridge, J. A., Greenhouse, J. B., Ruch, D., Stevens, J., Ackerman, J., Sheftall, A. H., Horowitz, L. M., Kelleher, K. J., & Campo, J. V. (in press). Association between the release of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Whyand suicide rates in the United States: An interrupted times series analysis. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.