Even factoring in "ongoing trends in suicide rates," a new National Institutes of Health-backed study concludes that a 28.9% increase in suicides among children-youth ages 10-17 in the month following the release of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why was associated with that show.
"The findings highlight the necessity of using best practices when portraying suicide in popular entertainment and in the media," NIH said.
13 Reasons deals with the suicide of a high-school-age girl and the reasons she left behind. Netflix did add a content warning to the show.
"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," said NIH. "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."
But the reason the study said "associated" is because while it can say both those things happened, the show was released and suicides increased, it does not establish a causal connection.
"While compelling, this research had several limitations," NIH pointed out. "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 Parents Television Council, which has long expressed concerns about the show, had no such caveats in its reaction to the study. "Any other product in the stream of commerce that was linked to increased suicide of children would be pulled from the market," said PTC president Tim Winter, which called on Netflix to do just that.
“While Netflix may try to justify its program by pointing to other research released last week that found that the suicide risk of adults ages 18-29 who watched ’13 Reasons Why’ decreased after watching the second season of the show, the fact of the matter is that these two studies are comparing two different age groups with two different maturity levels. They are not the same."
That University of Pennsylvania study concluded that "a fictional story with a focus on suicidal content can have both harmful and helpful effects."
"We've just seen this study and are looking into the research, which conflicts with last week’s study from the University of Pennsylvania," a Netflix spokesperson told Multichannel News. "his is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly.”
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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