Local experts weigh in on new study linking rise in teen suicides to Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’

Teen suicide rates

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Experts say a new study showing a strong association between a popular TV show and youth suicide rates should serve as a wake-up call to mainstream media.

Researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital found a sharp rise in suicide rates among children and teens in the month after the season release of the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.” Researchers measured monthly and annual rates of suicide reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2013 through 2017 among people ages 10 to 64. They then divided them into age groups.

The month immediately following the release of the show had a suicide rate of 0.57 per 100,000 10 to 17-year-olds, the highest rate of the five-year study period in this age group.

Researchers found about 195 more suicide deaths than expected among 10 to 17-year-olds in the nine months following the show’s release, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The popular Netflix show has completed two seasons, with a third currently in production. It sparked a firestorm of reactions when it debuted in 2017, with criticism that the show “glorifies” suicide. As a response, Netflix ended up adding a cautionary video at the start of each episode. The message goes on to list signs someone might be suicidal. In addition, Netflix also created a website offering resources for people contemplating suicide.

The fictional show deals with some tough topics. It centers around a high school student who takes her own life and leaves behind 13 audio recordings revealing reasons why. During the first season, executive producer Selena Gomez said her intent for the show was to help teens who were struggling. But experts say the consequences of that message can be tragic.

While the study does not prove those who took their own life watched the show beforehand, it shows just how critical it is for the subject of suicide to be broached in a responsible and healthy way. Suicide prevention experts say more needs to be done to show help is available.

“Various forms of media need to be very careful about how they put things out there to our young people because they are more impressionable - in many ways - and their brains are still developing,” said Sandy Johnson, licensed professional counselor with Coastal Haven Counseling.

The release of this series has even prompted the National Association of School Psychologists to issue a warning statement, cautioning against letting kids watch the series.

According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. South Carolina’s teen suicide rate is above the U.S. average.

Licensed professional counselor with Coastal Haven Counseling, Sandy Johnson, says there's so many factors that could contribute to suicidal thoughts. So, it’s important for parents and loved ones to always look for the warning signs and have an open conversation.

Johnson says there’s some key red flags parents should look out for in their kids.

“If they’re seeing differences in their child, which is a warning sign. When you’re seeing personality shifts, when you’re seeing isolation or changes in routine or anger, heightened irritability, all of those things are signs," said Johnson.

Netflix representatives have responded to this recent study saying they are aware of it and looking into the research.

The national suicide prevention lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK.

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