Did "13 Reasons Why" Really Cause Teen Suicide Rates To Rise?

By Victoria Kim 05/07/19

The results of a new study involving the show has sparked a heated debate about its complicated subject matter.

teen watching 13 Reasons Why

Ever since the debut of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why—about a high school girl who left behind audio tapes listing the 13 reasons why she ended her life—controversy has swirled over the graphic nature of the show.

Critics of the show accuse it of romanticizing suicide. Some school officials voiced concern around the show’s debut that it would produce a “contagion effect” among students already at risk of depression or self-harm.

The debate has reignited with the release of a new study in April that claimed the show “was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates” among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month that followed the show’s March 2017 debut.

“The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media,” said study author Lisa Horowitz, PhD, in a statement. “All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises.”

However, as BuzzFeed News reported, the study determined correlation, not causation. Therefore, as some mental health experts say, it is not only unfair but also inaccurate to blame 13 Reasons Why for rising youth suicide rates.

“People tend to sort of read the headline and jump to some kind of conclusion, when these things are really complicated,” said Victor Schwartz, medical director at the Jed Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting youth mental health and suicide prevention.

“This is sort of the culmination of a series of reports that seem to corroborate some of the concerns that many of us expressed when the show came out,” Schwartz added. “But again, obviously, with any of these things, it’s always difficult to prove causation.”

The show, which will continue with the release of Season 3 sometime this year, has been dealing with this kind of backlash since the beginning.

Since then, Netflix has updated the trigger warnings that appear before episodes and created Beyond the Reasons, a behind-the-scenes documentary discussing the thought behind the show and why they chose not to shy away from difficult scenes.

Jay Asher, the author of the novel that the series is based on, said the difficult subject matter depicted on the show is worth talking about. “The whole issue of suicide is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it happens. And so we have to talk about it. It’s dangerous not to talk about it.”

Netflix also created the website 13reasonswhy.info where you’ll find suicide prevention resources.

Helen Hsu, a California-based clinical psychologist who served as a “mental health consultant of sorts” on the show, was not convinced by the findings of the new study. “Everybody wants a simple answer for a very complex social problem,” she told BuzzFeed News.

“Nobody’s randomly doing this show for shock value. I think we all feel really strongly that stigma has to be broken and these things have to be talked about,” said Hsu.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr