(NEW YORK) — Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, which follows the aftermath of a teen girl’s suicide, has drawn criticism and controversy since it first began streaming, as many feared that it might promote suicidality.
Adding to those fears, a new study finds that there was a significant increase in youth suicide rates following the show’s initial release.
The NIH-supported study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, found that the overall suicide rate among boys ages 10 to 17 increased dramatically in the months following the shows release. Suicide rates among girls, meanwhile, remained steady.
“The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to media,” said Lisa Horowitz, study author and clinical scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health Intramural Research Program, in a press release. “All disciplines, including the media, need to take good care to be constructive and thoughtful about topics that intersect with public health crises.”
The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at annual and monthly data on suicide rates for people between the ages of 10 and 64 between January 2013 and December 2017.
They found that in April 2017, a month after the show’s release, there was a 28% increase in suicide among 10- to 17-year-old teen boys, making it the month with the highest suicide rate out of the entire five-year period.
Compared to youth, there were no significant differences in suicide rates in people who were 18 years old or older. Homicides did not significantly increase, either.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Netflix said, “We’ve just seen this study and are looking into the research, which conflicts with last week’s study from the University of Pennsylvania (Which found the series may reduce risk for young adults who watch to the end.) This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly.”
Suicide remains a major public health concern, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting it as the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24. However, Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a volunteer advisor to Netflix, emphasized that individual reasons for dying by suicide are complex.
Moutier said that other potential contributors to the study’s findings could have included shifts in the way people were using social media and the suicides of musician Chris Cornell and NFL player Aaron Hernandez — all of which occurred around the same time.
Contrary to the study’s findings, her organization has actually found that the Netflix show has helped parents open up dialogue with their children about the subject of suicide and create a safe space.
Help is available; there are dedicated centers for those who are in need of it. Robin Seymour, clinical director of the Newport Academy rehab center, told ABC News that in recent years, there have been “higher rates of suicide ideation” at their treatment centers.
For anyone struggling with these thoughts, she recommended open communication with someone who can be trusted. After all, she said, by speaking with others, you may find that someone else is struggling, too.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) where you’ll be put in touch with a local crisis center. Nitya Kumar is an internal medicine resident physician in Houston, Texas, and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.
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