Netflix's Controversial Show '13 Reasons Why' Increases Suicide Risk in Young People, Study Finds

Netflix’s controversial teen drama 13 Reasons Why has been linked to an increased risk of teen suicide among viewers.

According to a study conducted by The University of Michigan, the Netflix original series, which has been blasted in the past for its glamorized depiction of suicide, has contributed to higher reports of suicide-related symptoms among vulnerable young people.

The study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, surveyed 87 teenagers, the majority of which were female, who were being treated in psychiatric emergency departments for suicide-related concerns in 2017 and 2018, the same years that Season 1 and Season 2 of the series premiered. Researchers asked the participants to complete a questionnaire regarding the series and its correlation to suicide.

Of the young people who participated and had watched the series, more than half reported it heightened their suicide risk due to their identification with the lead female character, 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who kills herself after being bullied.

While researchers concluded that further research is needed, “the findings suggest a particular vulnerability to the show’s themes among youths at risk of suicide.”

“This show has been a real phenomenon, especially among teenagers. Its depiction of teen suicide has raised great concern among parents, health providers and educators,” lead author Victor Hong, M.D., medical director of psychiatric emergency services at Michigan Medicine, said. “Few believe this type of media exposure will take kids who are not depressed and make them suicidal. The concern is about how this may negatively impact youth who are already teetering on the edge.”

The popular drama generated controversy for its depiction of suicide followings its debut on the streaming giant in 2017. Based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, season one followed Hannah Baker, who, after dying by suicide, lives on through a series of 13 tapes detailing the reasons that led to her death.

Prior to the release of the series’ second season, the Parents Television Council urged Netflix to delay the release of new episodes until “experts in the scientific community have determined it to be safe for consumption by an audience that is comprised heavily of minor children."

Following 13 Reason Why’s Season 3 renewal, the PTC once again condemned Netflix’s decision.

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“Netflix has delivered a ticking time bomb to teens and children who watch 13 Reasons Why," the PTC said in a statement. “The content and thematic elements of the second season are even worse than we expected. We would have liked to have 13 reasons for hope and redemption following the graphic suicide of the lead female teen character, but rather than providing a path forward, the season only provides cause for despondency."

Despite the controversy, Netflix has chosen to move forward with production, with CEO Reed Hastings stating that although controversial, “nobody has to watch it."