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Fears about 13 Reasons Why confirmed

Media | Study shows teen suicide spiked after the controversial Netflix show aired
by Mary Jackson
Posted 5/03/19, 05:09 pm

Ever since the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why debuted two years ago, parent groups, psychologists, and social scientists have issued grave warnings about its glorification of a teen suicide and violence, particularly for vulnerable and at-risk youth.

Now, a new study offers perhaps the most concrete evidence to date associating the series with a spike in suicide among teens. The study, published Monday in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, shows that in the month following the show’s March 2017 debut, suicide rates jumped to a 19-year high for U.S. children ages 10-17.

During April 2017 alone, 190 tweens and teens took their lives, a 30 percent jump from the five preceding years. Teen boys accounted for nearly all of the increase that year, with girls and young adults older than 17 displaying no increase. Nine months after the premiere of 13 Reasons Why, there were 195 more youth suicides than expected, according to researchers from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

“This is a very disturbing confirmation of our worst fears the past couple of years,” said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council. “Netflix has the blood of children on their hands, and they are still trying to defend themselves.”

The show’s first season tells the story of a teenage girl’s suicide, including a graphic scene of her death, with a complex explanation of why she did it recorded on audio diaries. The show also depicts sexual assault and one character plotting a school shooting.

After the first season aired, Google searches for “How to kill myself” surged by 26 percent. At the time, Winter said there was debate over whether this would translate into more teen suicides: “Now we know that children did act on these attempts to hurt themselves.”

Teen suicide has been on the rise in recent years; it is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents. The study’s findings will likely invigorate the debate about the merit of 13 Reasons Why as its third season is expected to release later this year.

“We’ve just seen this study and are looking into research, which conflicts with last week’s study from the University of Pennsylvania,” one that focused on young adults, not teens, an unidentified Netflix representative said. “This is a critically important topic, and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly.”

Up until now, Netflix has done little to address concerns. Some episodes include a warning message, and the streaming service created a website with crisis hotline numbers and other resources. In the show’s second season, actors offered advice to viewers on where to find help. But Netflix CEO Reed Hastings defended 13 Reasons Why to shareholders last June, saying, “It’s engaging content. … It is controversial. But nobody has to watch it.”

The problem is that children are binge watching it, often unbeknownst to their parents. Fewer young people watch television in the family living room, while more consume it on mobile devices, often in intimate settings with the screen held closer to them. For these reasons, Winter told me content providers like Netflix must accept greater responsibility.

Meanwhile, decades of scientific research have shown that compelling media depictions of suicide negatively influence young people. Douglas Gentile, a child psychologist and psychology professor at Iowa State University, said he found the results of the Nationwide hospital study horrifying but unsurprising: “We’ve known about these negative effects for a long time, and yet there is this anti-science push for media violence in recent years.”

Some have cautiously praised the show for opening up conversations about teen suicide and its risk factors, including bullying, sexual assault, and social media pressure. But Gentile said, “We can’t presume the conversation is one-sided. For a young person already on the dark side and contemplating suicide, it doesn’t open the conversation in [the right] direction.”

Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision (file) Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision (file) John Singleton

Untimely death

John Singleton, the first African American and the youngest filmmaker nominated for an Academy Award for best director, died Monday of complications from a stroke. Singleton was best known for his first hit, Boyz N the Hood, which won him an Oscar nomination at age 24.

Boyz N the Hood traces the lives of three African Americans young adults growing up in South Central Los Angeles, starting with their childhoods. The movie came out in 1991 as the United States’ early fascination with hip-hop culture peaked. It gave moviegoers from South Central and other neighborhoods like it a chance to see their lives depicted on screen.

Boyz N The Hood was a seismic event,” filmmaker Brandon David Wilson tweeted. “I’m an L.A. native, but it wasn’t until BNTH that I saw *my* L.A. onscreen.”

Singleton went on to direct films such as 1993’s Poetic Justice and 1995’s Higher Learning, and he helped create the TV drama Snowfall, but none had as much success as Boyz N the Hood. Singleton struggled with high blood pressure, a risk factor for strokes. After his death, his family urged fellow African Americans to have their blood pressure checked and learn the warning signs of a stroke. More than half of African American adults in the United States have high blood pressure. —Lynde Langdon

Associated Press/Photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe (file) Associated Press/Photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe (file) The Wild Boars soccer team at a public discussion of their cave rescue in Bangkok, Thailand

On the big screen

Netflix and the production company that made Crazy Rich Asians have won the rights to make a film about the dramatic rescue of a boys soccer team from a cave in Thailand last summer, the company announced this week. The 12 village boys and their coach were trapped for more than two weeks when rain flooded the caves they were exploring. One diver, a former Thai navy SEAL, died in the rescue effort, but all of the boys and their coach survived. Pure Flix, the company that produced God’s Not Dead, also tried at first to secure the rights to make the movie, but Netflix won out. —L.L.

Goodbye, Chewie

Peter Mayhew, the British actor behind the beloved character Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy and two other films, died in his home in Texas on Tuesday, his family said Thursday. No cause was given. Mayhew was 74.

“He put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films,” his family said in a statement. “The Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film.”

Others involved in Star Wars wrote tributes for Mayhew, including creator George Lucas and actors Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. “Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character,” Ford said in a Thursday statement. “Rest easy, my dear friend.” —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Diversity training

Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit issue, which comes out this month, features for the first time a Muslim woman wearing a burkini, or full body suit that meets Islamic modesty requirements. The magazine has made a point in recent years of including nonwhite, disabled, and plus-size models in effort to deflect accusations of misogyny. But all it has really done is prove that it can objectify women from all walks of life. —L.L.

Mary Jackson

Mary is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and four children. Follow Mary on Twitter @mbjackson77

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Comments

  • Debi
    Posted: Sat, 05/04/2019 08:31 pm

    I have had concerns about the subject matter since I first heard of the series "13 Reasons Why." 

    Thank you for your well-researched article.  I pray that people will read this and that they will cause Netflix to rethink their decision to show another season.  

  • Bob C
    Posted: Mon, 05/06/2019 10:14 am

    “… But Netflix CEO Reed Hastings defended 13 Reasons Why to shareholders last June, saying, “It’s engaging content. … It is controversial. But nobody has to watch it.”

    I would add that nobody has to be a scriber to Netflex!  So cancel your subscription, that would send a message to Mr. Hasting and their stockholders, that will get their attention.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Tue, 05/07/2019 07:13 am

    Thanks for this article. On the one hand I was also worried when I saw this show pop up on Netflix and knew I did not want to watch it nor did I favor it. Of course what we watch impacts attitudes if not actions. On the other hand though the spike in suicide rates as well as Google searches as described are concerning, we cannot positively say this is directly related to "13 Reasons Why". To look at suicide rates and point to one factor as the cause is really confirmation bias since on the surface it serves to validate what we already have assumed to be true. There are so many other factors in our society that could also be contributing to this horrible statistical spike. That being said we should abhor shows like this one. There is much to dislike on Netflix, and Prime, and most media outlets. We live in a depraved and morally degenerate society. We should make our voices heard and stand with moral courage. But we also need to be careful how we do it.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Tue, 05/07/2019 07:16 am

    I should add that this article on "13 Reasons Why" was the lead and most enigmatic of your post. However, all of the news reported was interesting and give various insights on our society and newsy items. Thanks!

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