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13 Reasons Why associated with stark rise in youth suicide rates

Netflix’s original show 13 Reasons Why has been associated with a 28.9 per cent increase in suicide rates among youth aged between 10 and 17 in the United States.

13 Reasons Why is a web-based series that tells the story of a young girl who kills herself and leaves behind a series of 13 tapes detailing the reasons why she chose to end her life, and although this show has received critical acclaim, it has also generated questions regarding how the show’s portrayal of suicide affects young people who watch it.

According to a study published in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in the month following the show’s release in early 2017, there was an almost 30 per cent rise in youth suicide rates in America.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) said the findings highlight the necessity of using best practices when portraying suicide in popular entertainment and in the media.

“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,” NIMH said in a statement.

“When researchers analysed the data by sex, they found the increase in the suicide rate was primarily driven by significant increases in suicide in young males. While suicide rates for females increased after the show’s release, the increase was not statistically significant.”

To better understand the impact of 13 Reasons Why on suicide rates, researchers analysed annual and monthly data on deaths due to suicide sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web-based Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research, including information about the deaths of individuals between the ages of 10 and 64 that occurred between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2017, a time span that encompassed the period before and after the release of the series.

The researchers examined whether the rates of suicide for the period after the release of 13 Reasons Why were greater than would be expected based on suicide counts and trends observed in previous years.

The rates of suicide for 10 to 17-year-olds were found to be significantly higher in the months of April, June and December 2017 than were expected based on past data.

This increase translated into an additional estimated 195 suicide deaths between 1 April 2017 and 31 December 2017.

The observed suicide rate for March 2017 – the month prior to the release of 13 Reasons Why – was also higher than forecast.

As a comparison, the researchers also analysed deaths due to homicide during the same period, to assess whether other worldly social or environmental events after the release of the show might have influenced suicide rates.

“Homicide rates can be influenced by some of the same social and environmental factors as suicide rates,” NIMH continued.

“The researchers did not find any significant changes in homicide rates following the release of the show. The lack of change in homicide rates during the period of interest lends some strength to the idea that changes in suicide rates were influenced by the show and not some other environmental or social factor that occurred during this period.”

The findings of this study add to a growing body of information suggesting that youth may be particularly sensitive to the way suicide is portrayed in popular entertainment and in the media, NIMH said.

“The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media,” said study author Dr Lisa Horowitz, a clinical scientist in the NIMH Intramural Research Program.

“All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises.”

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain