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Study: ’13 Reasons Why’ may increase vulnerable teens’ suicide risk

Netflix

Activists have long criticized the show.

Netflix’s teen drama 13 Reasons Why has remained incredibly controversial since its release in 2017, mostly due to its glorification of main character Hannah Baker’s suicide. Now, a new study suggests the show may be increasing suicide risks among teens.

The study, which comes from the University of Michigan, claims that out of 87 youth patients admitted to a psychiatric emergency department due to suicide-related concerns, 49 percent watched at least one episode of the show’s first season, and “over half” of those viewers believed the series “increased their suicide risk to a nonzero degree.” The study also found that identifying with Baker “was significantly related” to their believed increase in suicidal risk.

“Youths with more depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation were more likely to identify with the lead characters and report negative affect while viewing,” the study’s abstract reports.

Lead author Dr. Victor Hong told BuzzFeed News that the study’s authors noticed a “significant uptick” in teen patients with suicidal concerns after the show premiered, with viewers mentioning the show potentially influencing their thoughts.

“Some of them had even said that it was a real factor in why their suicidality or depression had worsened,” Dr. Hong told BuzzFeed.

Granted, the study admits that this is the first academic look at 13 Reasons Why’s mental health impact, and it solely looks at a high-risk sample of viewers. That means the study cannot make any definitive claims about the show’s impact on teen suicide risk in the general populace. However, its authors suggest there’s a “particular vulnerability to the show’s themes” among at-risk youth, stressing “the importance of prevention strategies to ameliorate risk” among those viewers.

The news quickly went viral on Twitter, in part because mental health activists have long complained about the show’s handle on suicide. For one, 13 Reasons Why provides an incredibly narrow look at suicide, instead focusing on “the ultimate fantasy of teen suicidal ideation,” as the Establishment’s Ijeoma Oluo writes. In some ways, the show glorifies suicide as a way to punish others, instead of treating teen suicide as a problem with myriad converging factors and psychological concerns.

Others simply weren’t shocked.

Meanwhile, a few Twitter users believe we should be helping teens instead of solely criticizing 13 Reasons Why. After all, it’s not as if the show alone causes suicide.

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13 Reasons Why’s second season debuted on May 18.

For more information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) or Samaritans (U.K.).

H/T BuzzFeed News

Ana Valens

Ana Valens

Ana Valens is an LGBTQ reporter and essayist for the Daily Dot. Her work has previously appeared in Bitch, the Establishment, Vice's Waypoint, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.