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Netflix series 13 Reasons Why associated with increased youth suicides in U.S.: study

May 31, 2019

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Researchers stress need for responsible portrayals of fictional suicides

There was a 13.3% increase in suicides among youth aged between 10 and 19 years in the U.S. after the release of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, a team of researchers has found.

The team, consisting of researchers from Canada, including from Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI); Australia; Austria and the U.S., looked at suicide data before and after the show’s release on March 31, 2017. In a study published May 29, 2019 in JAMA Psychiatry, the researchers reported there were 94 more suicides beyond the generally increasing trend in the three months after the show’s debut among youth aged 10 to 19 years. The rise was only seen in this age group, and proportional increases were higher for females.

The researchers noted that the study identifies an association between the show and more suicides, not that the show caused the increase in suicides. Nonetheless, the findings give cause for concern.

“What we saw was a sudden increase in suicides only in youth, not in older people, and in particular in young women," says Dr. Mark Sinyor, an associate scientist at SRI, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook and one of the study’s co-authors.

Their analyses show there was a 12.4% increase in suicide among males, and an increase of 21.7% among females from April 1, 2017 to June 30, 2017—the period in which interest in the show peaked, based on social media data.

The show depicts events leading up to, and in the aftermath of, the death of its protagonist, Hannah Baker, at her own hands. The 17-year-old character leaves her personal story and reasons for taking her life on audiotapes. In the study, the researchers say that the entertainment industry needs guidance from mental health experts to “minimize or avoid potentially harmful suicide portrayals.”

» Read more at CBC News