The Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" was controversial from the moment it started streaming. Based on a 2007 novel by Jay Asher, the series tells the story of a high-school student named Hannah Baker who committed suicide. She left her friends and classmates 13 audio tapes full of clues as to why she did it. It's a fictional program, but new studies have been linking the show to a very real increased rate of suicides among young people.
At the end of April, the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that "13 Reasons Why" was related to a 28.9 percent increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month following the show's release in April 2017, after accounting for ongoing trends.
Study author Lisa Horowitz, Ph.D., M.P.H. was one of several experts who used the opportunity to try and raise awareness about the dangers of portrayals of violence in the media.
“The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media,” she said. "All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises.”
Admittedly, the researchers could not make a causal link between the release of the show and the changes in suicide rates. That's just one of the reasons that skeptics are telling us there's no need to fear the teen drama.
The problems are myriad. The study shows a rise in suicides in the months following the release of the show. But researchers have no proof that the teenagers who committed suicide over the observed time period had watched the show, or that they heard about the show, or that their deaths had anything to do with the show—this is all purely theoretical. (Reason)
Reason exposed other limitations of the study, including how researchers only studied the rates of adolescent males, despite the fact that the show portrays a female suicide. A piece in the Medical Xpress notes how suicide rates are going up regardless of the program and that some young viewers of the show have actually benefitted from it and gained more compassion for those who may have mental health issues.
One thing everyone can agree on is that the disturbing youth suicide rate should warrant some serious conversations.
Netflix defended "13 Reasons Why" by sharing its hope the series can serve as a "catalyst" for those conversations. They are expected to release the third season this year.