Is Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why’ Making Teens Suicidal?

While we all salute Netflix in creating some of the most thought-provoking shows in the streaming universe, one of them continues to stir the pot. When 13 Reasons Why — based on author Jay Asher’s young adult book of the same title — debuted a few years ago, the intention was to create a show as a way to show the modern context of suicide and digital bullying.

Many think the message backfired due to an increase in suicides from teens watching the show. What’s really going on here in terms of the show directly causing these suicides? Should we really blame the show, or is it just a correlation? The psychology is complicated, but let’s try to crack the code.

What is ’13 Reasons Why’ about?

Katherine Langford
Katherine Langford | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MTV

13 Reasons Why is about a girl named Hannah Baker (played by Katherine Langford) who ends her life after being sexually assaulted. She can’t find any decent support system within her school after the rape occurs, including dealing with bullying as the result of speaking out.

Her situation obviously resonated immediately with teen girls who likely have to deal with similar situations in public/private school on a daily basis. If they can probably relate to the suicide in the first episode, critics have gone after the 13 tapes Hannah leaves behind explaining why she ended her life.

Study shows teen suicide rates spiked after ’13 Reasons Why’

A recent study from researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, published Monday in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found an uptick in suicide rates a month after the debut of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. The study, which did not measure suicide attempts, specifically found the increase among U.S. boys between the ages of 10 and 17. The month after the release (March 2017) had a suicide rate of 0.57 per 100,000 10- to 17-year-olds, which is a 28.9 percent increase. The suicide rates for girls during March 2017 remained unaffected.

In response to the study, Netflix issued the following statement: “This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly.”

Can ’13 Reasons Why’ truly be blamed for the increase in suicides?

Various media sites have been trying to decipher why suicide rates have risen slightly from those who’d reportedly watched 13 Reasons Why. One point in defense of the show is the gender gap: The Netflix series centered around a female who took her own life and girls showed no increase in the study. One could argue that an increase in male teen suicides is unrelated since that strays from the premise of the show.

The most critical response is in how it depicts someone living on like a celebrity after taking their life. In reality, we know this isn’t always the case, even if close family members may keep pictures and existing media memories alive. In this writer’s view, the above plot development probably isn’t the real reason for the recent uptick in more suicidal teens.

“Mainstream media portrayals of suicide and mental health issues are often inaccurate and can reinforce stereotypes that lead to increased stigma and discrimination toward those with mental health struggles,” writes John Ackerman, co-author of the study, in a blog post.

Why are young males taking their lives more often than girls?

One of the most alarming statistics is in how many male teens are going through with suicide. Even though both male and female suicides have risen some after reportedly watching 13 Reasons Why, males are more apt to follow through than the teen girls.

Placed in context, it’s worth pondering why the males go forward with ending their lives and whether their sense of worth plummets after seeing how young males are depicted on 13 Reasons. Some of those characters are proven to be conscientious, but others are made to look like monsters.

Another variable to consider is that according to the CDC, boys are more likely to die from suicide than girls. So it’s possible the show has nothing to do with an uptick. What’s more, the study did not look at the number of suicide attempts. And the CDC finds girls are more likely than boys to report attempting to end their lives.

How will ’13 Reasons Why’ continue?

The cast of 13 Reasons probably isn’t paid enough to take on such a challenging subject. They’ve managed to tackle what the aftermath of Hannah’s suicide has done to all the surviving cast members, including the main lead, Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette). All of the things he’s discovered from Hannah’s tapes have been horrific.

As the show heads into an upcoming third season, no doubt many health experts hope it’ll show what the real aftermath of suicide is during ensuing years. Every plotline of the show demonstrates how suicide has profound repercussions that affect other people, often for life.

All we can hope for is if the first two seasons arguably made missteps, it’ll show viewers a darker future when wiping out one’s own life occurs without seeking help.

Editorial Note: If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody: You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or in Ohio, text “4HOPE”. Alternatively, consider using the Lifeline Crisis Chat at www.crisischat.org.