19 votes

Release of '13 Reasons Why' associated with increase in youth suicide rates

13 comments

  1. [2]
    Petril Link
    I remember a Tildes topic regarding this several months back, but I can't find it now. I'm saddened, but not surprised to read of this apparent link. A reddit commenter provided this link about...

    I remember a Tildes topic regarding this several months back, but I can't find it now. I'm saddened, but not surprised to read of this apparent link.

    The Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the shows release, after accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates, according to a study published today in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The findings highlight the necessity of using best practices when portraying suicide in popular entertainment and in the media.

    A reddit commenter provided this link about considerations for journalists reporting on suicides. From the article:

    Problem one: The contagion effect can be real.
    Response: Don't oversimplify why somebody took his or her own life.

    Problem two: Glamorizing suicide makes it appear to be a viable option for somebody who wants fame or attention.
    Response: Help your readers/viewers/listeners understand that suicide is a painful, victimizing action. The American Association of Suicideology recommends that journalists:

    • Use objective, non-sensationalistic language to describe the suicide death.
    • Exclude details about method, location, notes or photos from the scene.
    • Focus on life of the person rather than the death and method.

    Problem three: Correlation and causation are not the same.
    Response: Covering suicide requires journalists to seek context

    Problem four: We falsely assume that suicide is a decision that comes after some contemplation.
    Response: Explore stories about how/whether health insurance covers mental health

    Problem five: When high-profile suicides involve guns, there is an inevitable call for gun control or other one-and-done solutions. But there is no single reason for suicides and no single solution either.
    Response: Avoid offering simple solutions to complex problems

    Problem six: Journalists avoid covering suicides except in celebrity or high-profile deaths.
    Response: Cover suicide as a public health issue.

    Perhaps this topic would be better in news or somewhere else, so I won't be offended if it gets moved.

    I think there's a lot to talk about regarding portrayal of suicide in media, and whether it is safe or ethical to do it at all.

    15 votes
    1. clerical_terrors Link Parent
      It's a well-known phenomena, you'd hope journalism would start catching up after all these years. But it seems like the need for profit overrides or buries the mental health concerns and so...

      It's a well-known phenomena, you'd hope journalism would start catching up after all these years. But it seems like the need for profit overrides or buries the mental health concerns and so glamorized/sensational news is the name of the game.

      8 votes
  2. [4]
    Gaywallet Link
    I question the validity of 195 extra deaths being attributed to a show 6+ months after it's released. Furthermore if 195 = 28.9% increase, then the usual n is ~675 for a 8 month period. While I...

    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, 2017, and Dec. 31, 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.

    I question the validity of 195 extra deaths being attributed to a show 6+ months after it's released. Furthermore if 195 = 28.9% increase, then the usual n is ~675 for a 8 month period.

    While I think it's theoretically possible for some people to have chosen for this to be their catalyst for deciding on committing suicide, this feels like choosing something easy to blame because it's right there and it makes sense. While it's possible, it's not very scientific to leap to that conclusion.


    Decided to do a quick google before submitting this comment and I found the abstract of the article. A 95% CI on the IRR still shows a relationship (1.09-1.53) and they adjusted for seasonal effects and an "underlying increasing trend in monthly suicide rates". I'll withhold judgement until I can see the full article, but I think that's enough to warrant additional study.

    9 votes
    1. Rocket_Man Link Parent
      I luckily have access to the article and there's not much more too it. Seems reasonable to conclude there's an association. But there'd also be an association with everything else that happened...

      I luckily have access to the article and there's not much more too it. Seems reasonable to conclude there's an association. But there'd also be an association with everything else that happened near the end of march.

      7 votes
    2. [2]
      mrbig (edited ) Link Parent
      This study may be questionable, but the phenomenon is real and the World Health Organization takes it very seriously. The oldest and most famous streak of copycat suicides was first dubbed The...

      This study may be questionable, but the phenomenon is real and the World Health Organization takes it very seriously.

      The oldest and most famous streak of copycat suicides was first dubbed The Werther Effect, and came with the success of the ultra-romantic The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Goethe, in 1774. I read the book in my youth, and it's not hard to understand why that happened.

      6 votes
      1. Gaywallet Link Parent
        While I agree this is something to be taken seriously, the question is would these people have found something else to copycat if they were not exposed to this? Would they have killed themselves...

        While I agree this is something to be taken seriously, the question is would these people have found something else to copycat if they were not exposed to this? Would they have killed themselves without something to copycat? It's really hard to answer these questions without more studying of the issue. It's even harder to know what should be done to prevent it. Perhaps there's a way it can be shown in media and actively discourage suicide. Until we study the phenomenon more, we won't have answers to these questions.

  3. [3]
    mrbig (edited ) Link
    Others pointed out how this is a very real, well-known phenomenon. The OMS WHO has a handbook on that. As someone who suffers from ADHD and bipolar disorder, I actively avoid content featuring...

    Others pointed out how this is a very real, well-known phenomenon. The OMS WHO has a handbook on that. As someone who suffers from ADHD and bipolar disorder, I actively avoid content featuring suicide. I can say anecdotally that it does have a negative effect on my mental health. When I taught screenwriting, suicide was the only discouraged topic for my students. For beginners, it is very tempting to write stories that glorify suicide via justification or posthumous revenge. Thelma & Louise is a famous example of that.

    7 votes
    1. [2]
      firstname Link Parent
      As someone who also has BD, i can relate to this. Since we are extra sensitive emotionally, we have it easier to identify media that are mentally unhealthy. While it might take a long time for...

      As someone who also has BD, i can relate to this. Since we are extra sensitive emotionally, we have it easier to identify media that are mentally unhealthy. While it might take a long time for someone else to feel bad put in a certain situation, i feel like i can identify the situation straight away.

      I will give you a an example of this. There where a few reasons why i never took part in Facebook. The biggest reason where that i saw a platform that is build´t around people comparing each others lives. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

      This can be used as a strength of sort, we can help inform the people around us of the possibility that it might happen.

      2 votes
      1. mrbig Link Parent
        This is hard for everyone, but mental health issues make it particularly troublesome. I don't need a daily panorama of people's curated life. That atmosphere of fake joy just makes it harder to...

        The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

        This is hard for everyone, but mental health issues make it particularly troublesome. I don't need a daily panorama of people's curated life. That atmosphere of fake joy just makes it harder to deal with the pain.

        1 vote
  4. mb3077 Link
    The results may be inconclusive, but a near 30% increase is still significant enough to warrant opening a dialogue about the subject imo. I personally think that the influence of media on youth...

    While compelling, this research had several limitations. For example, the study used a quasi-experimental design, meaning that 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 results may be inconclusive, but a near 30% increase is still significant enough to warrant opening a dialogue about the subject imo.
    I personally think that the influence of media on youth will be a major subject of discussion in the upcoming decades.

    While a change in lifestyle is partly to blame, I think that the huge increase of depression and suicide rates among teenagers in the last decade can be attributed to the "romanticization" of depression and suicide in the media, especially in TV shows, movies and animes. There are so many brooding, depressed, and alienated characters in movies and shows that are depicted as tragic heroes, often with a justified cause. Teenagers who are naturally going through a phase of self-discovery and identity crisis latch onto these types of characters, as they themselves feel lost in the world without guidance or meaning.

    There's also the case of painting suicide as significant, dramatic, and almost "beautiful" in media. There are countless scenes showing the protagonist going through their suicide while emotional music is playing, almost suggesting that the character gains more importance by the sole fact of taking their own life. I think that this is why many teenagers often post online sentiments such as "They'll miss me when I'm gone". Basically teenagers feeling that they have no significance in life will resolve the problem by committing suicide. Atleast that's how I interpret it.

    Social media and internet groups are also a great contributor. There is no shortage of forums and message boards filled with depressed people, reaffirming each other's warped beliefs, and dragging each other lower and lower into a bottomless pit.

    Fortunately for most teenagers, this phase ends as they start gaining more control over themselves and their environment, while also gaining more responsibilities. But with more advancements in technology, there is more room for teenagers to sulk by themselves in isolation, tailoring the information that they get, instead of going out and being forced to experience the different perspectives and world views of the people around them.

    I'd like to note that this is only my take on the subject, it is not really informed by scientific evidence. I'm also not talking about those who are clinically/medically depressed, as that is a completely different subject.

    7 votes
  5. [2]
    knocklessmonster Link
    I wonder if it may be that a depressed younger population was exposed to suicide as an option to end their pain, and figured it was a good way to escape the torment of their existence that they...

    I wonder if it may be that a depressed younger population was exposed to suicide as an option to end their pain, and figured it was a good way to escape the torment of their existence that they simply had not considered.

    1 vote
    1. PahoojyMan Link Parent
      And is the issue really the suicide / suicide trigger itself, or the underlying contributors that lead to the torment which people feel such an overwhelming need to escape?

      And is the issue really the suicide / suicide trigger itself, or the underlying contributors that lead to the torment which people feel such an overwhelming need to escape?

      1 vote