‘13 Reasons Why’ and media effects on suicide

In a recent study, researchers estimated that an additional 195 suicide deaths among 10- to 17-year-olds occurred in the nine months after the 2017 release of the first season of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” The study by Bridge et al. was seen as confirming fears that the series’ explicit and graphic portrayal of suicide might lead to increases in suicide.

Forlorn teen sits on a couch pointing a television remote control.

But how should we interpret those deaths? The research used to estimate those deaths may only represent the net effects of exposure to the show. It is possible that the show also prevented some deaths, and that what was observed was a net loss of life.

In a commentary in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers Florian Arendt and Daniel Romer wrestle with the meaning of those 195 additional suicides and ask whether that calculation obscures “a more complex social phenomenon.”

Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and Arendt, a professor in health communication at the University of Vienna, Austria, say that an increase in suicide rates following highly visible media stories about people dying by suicide, known as the Werther effect, may obscure more complex effects of the story.

Read more at Annenberg Public Policy Center.