Study highlights the importance of responsible portrayal of suicide by the media
The Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in April 2017, following the show's premiere, after accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates, according to a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The findings highlight the need for caution when portraying suicide in the media.
The number of deaths by suicide recorded in that month was greater than the number in any month in the five-year period examined by the researchers. The increase was primarily driven by significant increases in suicide among young males.
The researchers found that the rates of suicide for 10 to 17-year-olds was significantly higher in April, June, and December 2017 than were expected based on past data. This increase translated into an additional estimated 195 suicide deaths between April 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017. The researchers did not find any significant trends in older people.
“13 Reasons Why” 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. Although the series has received critical acclaim, it has also generated questions about how it affects young people.
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 the media. A number of groups, such as National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the World Health Organization, and reporting on suicide.org, to create best practices for talking about and portraying suicide on screen. These recommend, for example, that the media should avoid depicting suicide methods.
The second season of “13 Reasons Why” was released in May 2018, and a third season is currently in production and is expected to be released sometime this year.
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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