Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why has been one of the most controversial television series to date. Many young viewers praised the show, claiming it gave an honest perspective and raised awareness on what life was really like for teenagers.
On the other hand, many parents, teachers and medical professionals have approached the show with caution, warning that it romanticises suicide and risks increasing the likelihood of ‘copycats’ among teens.
In light of the controversy surrounding the program, a group of psychiatric doctors from Michigan Medicine recently conducted a study on youths presented to a psychiatric emergency department (ED) with suicide-related concerns in the year after the series’ premiere.
The results were published online, on the American Psychiatric Association Services website and can be easily accessed by the public. Disturbingly, the findings confirmed fears, particularly for those who already suffer symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation.
According to researchers, “of the 87 people who participated in the survey in 2017 and 2018, about half had watched at least one episode of the show, and of those, half (in total 21) said it heightened their suicide risk.”
A further 51 percent of youths who viewed the series claimed that it increased their risk of suicide on a subconscious level, mainly due to the fact that they were able to strongly identify with the lead female character.
The most concerning results of the study, apart from the heightened risk of suicide, was that the majority of the teens surveyed (84%) watched the show alone and were more likely to speak to their peers (80%) before speaking to their parents (34%).
The psychiatric doctors concluded the study by saying that although it’s confirmed that the television series heightened the risk of suicide, further research was needed to determine the full extent.
“Although further research is needed, the findings suggest a particular vulnerability to the show’s themes among youths at risk of suicide and the importance of prevention strategies to ameliorate risk among these viewers.”
Author and psychologist Doctor Deborah Serani said, “the sensationalized theme that a suicide will reform a sinner, soften a bully, or change the character of another is seriously misguided. It’s also reckless to suggest that suicide can offer vindication for the wrongs a person has endured. The ones that are forever changed from a death by suicide are not your enemies, but your loved ones.”
The series has reportedly been renewed for a third season and is set to be released in 2019.