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A recent study found that suicide rates among teens increased following the debut of Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” but researchers were unable to prove that the show was directly responsible for the unprecedented spike.
The study, published Monday in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and funded by the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Mental Health, found that the overall suicide rate among children aged 10 to 17 increased by a significant amount following the premiere of the Netflix drama series in March 2017.
Over the course of nine months following the show’s release, there were 195 more suicides in that age group than established trends would have predicted, the study states, according to CNN. Looking specifically at the month after the series premiere, researchers found that the suicide rate was 0.57 per 100,000 children in the 10 to 17 age range. While suicide rates among girls didn’t change, the suicide rate among boys went up 28.9 percent in the month after the premiere, making that month the one with the highest number of child deaths by suicide in the entire five-year period researchers studied.
Further study showed that the suicide rate among children in that age group in the month of April constituted a 19-year high, the Associated Press reports.
“13 Reasons Why” tells the story of a teenage girl who took her own life and follows the impact her suicide has on her peers and loved ones. While the study was unable to prove a link between the show and the increased number of suicide deaths among children, or pinpoint if any of the children who took their own lives did so after watching the show, researchers did state that caution should be used when exposing children to the series.
Jeff Bridge, a lead author of the study and a suicide researcher at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told the Associated Press that graphic depictions of suicide can lead viewers into committing similar behavior.
“The creators of the series intentionally portrayed the suicide of the main character. It was a very graphic depiction of the suicide death,” he said.
A spokesperson for Netflix told the Associated Press it's “just seen the study and are looking into the research.”
“This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly,” the spokesperson said.
Netflix has acknowledged the sensitivity of the subject matter portrayed in “13 Reasons Why,” and the company began airing warning videos alongside the show in its second season, in addition to pointing viewers to other mental health resources.
Lisa Horowitz, a staff scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health and a co-author of the study, said in a statement obtained by National Public Radio that their findings “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.
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