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Teen suicide rates spiked after '13 Reasons Why' release: Study

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: April 30, 2019  | 13:03 IST

Washington, Apr 30 (PTI) The release of the critically acclaimed Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" was associated with a significant increase in suicide rates among teenagers in the US, a study claims. "13 Reasons Why" is a web-based series that tells the story of a young girl who kills herself and leaves behind a series of 13 tapes detailing the reasons why she chose to end her life. Although this show has received critical acclaim, it has also raised questions regarding how the show's portrayal of suicide affects young people who watch it, according to researchers from the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The series premiered on Netflix on March 31, 2017. The research, published in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, shows that in the month of April in 2017 -- the month following the shows release -- there was a 28.9 per cent increase in suicide rates among US youth aged 10-17. The findings highlight the necessity of using best practices when portraying suicide in popular entertainment and in the media. The number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 was greater than the number seen in any single month during the five-year period examined by the researchers. When researchers analysed the data by sex, they found the increase in the suicide rate was primarily driven by significant increases in suicide in young males. While suicide rates for females increased after the show's release, the increase was not statistically significant. "The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media," said Lisa Horowitz, a clinical scientist at NIMH. "All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises," Horowitz said in a statement. To better understand the impact of "13 Reasons Why" on suicide rates, researchers analysed annual and monthly data on deaths due to suicide sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's web-based Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research. These data included information about the deaths of individuals between the ages of 10 and 64 that occurred between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2017, a timespan that encompassed the period before and after the release of the series. The researchers examined whether the rates of suicide for the period after the release of "13 Reasons Why" were greater than would be expected based on suicide counts and trends observed in previous years. The researchers found that the rates of suicide for 10- to 17-year-olds was significantly higher in the months of April, June, and December 2017 than were expected based on past data. This increase translated into an additional estimated 195 suicide deaths between April 1 and December 31 in 2017. The observed suicide rate for March 2017 -- the month prior to the release of "13 Reasons Why" -- was also higher than forecast. The researchers note that the show was highly promoted during the month of March, exposing audiences to the show's premise and content through trailers. The researchers did not find any significant trends in suicide rates in people 18- to 64 years of age. The findings of this study add to a growing body of information suggesting that youth may be particularly sensitive to the way suicide is portrayed in popular entertainment and in the media. While compelling, this research had several limitations. The researchers cannot make a causal link between the release of "13 Reasons Why" and the observed changes in suicide rates. The researchers cannot, therefore, rule out the possibility that unmeasured events or factors influenced suicide rates during this period. The second season of "13 Reasons Why" was released in May 2018, and a third season is currently in production and is expected to be released this year. PTI MHN MHN

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