Youth Suicide Rates Spiked After Release Of '13 Reasons Why', Study Finds
Youth suicide rates in the United States spiked after the release of Netflix's controversial show '13 Reasons Why', a new study has found.
The study highlights the "very real impact" of showing "risky" content around suicide, Australian youth mental health organisation headspace warned.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found suicide rates of young people aged 10 to 17 "increased significantly" following the show's late March 2017 release.
Suicide rates went up by 30 percent the following month, which recorded the highest number of deaths by suicide in a five-year period -- particularly among young males.
"[This] research is evidence of the very real impact and risk that exposure to harmful suicide depictions can create," headspace Executive Director of Clinical Practice Vikki Ryall told 10 daily.
"Shows like 13 Reasons Why expose viewers to risky suicide content and may lead to a distressing reaction by the viewer, particularly if the audience is children and young people."
While previous research has examined viewing patterns and reactions to the show, this study used suicide data from the Centre for Disease Control between January 2013 and December 2017.
The research is correlational, meaning the researchers cannot make a causal link between the observed changes in suicide rates and the release of the show. But seasonal trends observed in previous years, along with deaths due to homicide in the same period, were taken into account.
"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," a NIH statement said.
A Netflix spokesperson told local outlets including the New York Times, it "has just seen this study and [is] looking into the research".
But it claimed the research "conflicts" with a study released last week from the University of Pennsylvania, which focused on young adults and found both harmful and helpful effects from watching the show's second season.
When the second season was announced in May last year, headspace worked with Netflix to release tailored resources for young people, parents and schools "to ensure viewers and the wider community were safe and informed about the show's difficult content".
National institute Everymind's Mindframe program has also worked with Netflix to "support safe communication and conversations around the series", spokesperson Sara Bartlett told 10 daily in a statement.
The suicide prevention program outlines guidelines encouraging journalists to use safe, inclusive language around suicide, present only confirmed information and remove details around method and location.
Now, a third season is in production.
"While we cannot stop anyone from watching season three, we can strongly recommend that people have access to helpful and safe information, and encourage parents to consider the risks of exposure to specific details related to suicide," Ryall said.
Study author Lisa Horowtiz said the research should raise awareness that "young people are particularly vulnerable to the media".
"All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises," she said.
If you are in crisis, you can contact one of these 24/7 national crisis support services: Lifeline (13 11 14), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467), or BeyondBlue (1300 224 636).
Featured image: Netflix