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Canadian data finds first season of Netflix series 13 Reasons Why associated with increase in Ontario youth suicide deaths

Aug 23, 2019

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Researchers have analyzed data from Ontario, Canada, which shows an increase in suicide deaths among young people in the province following the release of the first season of the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. The show depicts the suicide of a teenage girl.

The study has been published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

The international group of researchers compared Ontario suicide data from April 2017 to December 2017, after the show’s release, to data from January 2013 to March 2017. In the nine-month period after the show’s release, 264 suicide deaths in young people under the age of 30 were observed - an increase of 18 per cent or 40 more deaths than were expected.

“Suicide is a complex issue and there are multiple factors that contribute to why a young person may die by suicide. Mental illness is often a significant contributing factor,” explains Dr. Mark Sinyor co-author of the study and psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “Young people who are vulnerable or at risk may be influenced by graphic depictions of suicides. It is critical for entertainment content providers to portray mental health issues, like suicide, in a responsible manner and show that people who contemplate suicide almost always find other ways of coping. Suicidal thoughts and the conditions that give rise to them are treatable and treatment can help save lives.”

Earlier this year two studies, including one by the same team of researchers, found an increase in suicide rates in the United States among children and youth following the release of 13 Reasons Why. The show was released worldwide and international research would help to clarify the degree to which the show may have impacted suicide rates. This study represents the first evidence on suicide deaths outside the U.S.

Researchers say that, collectively, these studies suggest that entertainment content creators must adhere more closely to responsible media guidelines and that greater engagement with suicide prevention and public health experts is needed.

“The results of the Ontario study are in line with what has been observed in the United States and what would be expected if contagion were occurring,” says Dr. SInyor. “Research has shown that harmful portrayals of suicide in media and entertainment have the potential to lead to copycat suicide attempts and deaths. Youth suicide remains a rare event and the overwhelming majority of people who contemplate suicide find other ways to manage. Our young people need to have that information.”

Dr. Sinyor explains that when suicide is portrayed responsibly, with messages about resilience, hope, and where to get help, “we see fewer deaths across the population. The entertainment industry has historically taken steps to avoid harmful portrayals in other areas of health such as not encouraging cigarette smoking or stigmatizing people with disabilities or chronic diseases. This was done voluntarily because it was the right thing to do. Society must insist on the same attention to safety in depictions of suicide.”

Experts say that if parents have concerns about their child’s mental health, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open.

“It is sometimes difficult for children and youth to talk about how they’re feeling. They may not fully understand that what they’re going through may be part of a mental illness or, in some cases, a normal reaction to life stress. When parents speak openly about mental health with their child, they signal to young people that it’s a topic they can also discuss,” says Dr. Sinyor.

“Listen to your child. Let them know that their feelings matter and that you are here to listen. Sometimes just talking about them can be enough. In some cases, if symptoms are severe or lasting for days or weeks, offer encouragement and support to find professional help.”


If you need help in an emergency please call 911 or visit your local emergency department. If you’re feeling like you’re in crisis or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available 24/7 through community resources:

Phone: toll-free at 1-833-456-4566
Text 45645 (available 4pm – 12am Eastern Time)
Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

For recommendations on responsible media reporting on suicide events visit sunnybrook.ca/responsiblereporting


Media contact

Jennifer Palisoc
Communications Advisor
416-480-4040
jennifer.palisoc@sunnybrook.ca