Netflix has recently landed in hot water due to recent reports of major spikes in suicide among teenagers being linked to the release of their popular show “13 Reasons Why.”
A study showed a significant spike in suicide rates in teenage boys between the ages of 10 to 17 years old. The suicide rate went up by 28.9 percent after the show’s release. Men tend to be more likely to die by suicide, while women are more likely to attempt suicide. The study showed no increase or decrease in female suicide rates.
The show is an adaptation of the novel, by the same name, written by Jay Asher. The story follows a teen boy listening to a set of audio tapes left behind by his friend who has committed suicide. The tapes list the reasons why she chose to end her life, and the subsequent people who were responsible for making her feel like this was the only option she had left.
Despite the fact that teen suicide will has always happened and probably will always will, Netflix should still take responsibility for this specific spike in suicide rates. Why? Because they were warned by psychologists to change certain aspects of the show or not air it at all, but the streaming service did not listen.
Psychologist Dan Reidenberg was asked to provide guidance to the streaming service before the release of the popular show. However, Reidenberg told Netflix not to stream the show. He stated that the show was indeed well done, with dramatic storytelling that captivates an audience who feels that they can relate to the series. Which only made it more dangerous. Reidenberg says that the show glamorizes suicide, and he worries about teens and children seeing it as an easy way out, like the show’s titular character did.
“Although it’s created a conversation about suicide, it’s not the right conversation,” said Reidenberg.
Netflix had told Reidenberg that pulling the show was not an option, because the streaming services giant really wanted to start a conversation about suicide.
“We’ve heard from our members that ‘13 Reasons Why’ has opened up a dialogue among parents, teens, schools and mental health advocates [built] around the intense themes and difficult topics depicted in the show,” said Netflix, in a statement released in 2017.
However, the damage Netflix had done was solidified once the series premiered. Specifically, the scene in which the suicide takes place was actually against guidelines on how the media should cover suicides.
The episode containing the suicide scene is preceded with a viewer discretion warning, as the scene is incredibly graphic, showing the main character sitting in a bathtub, fully clothes, with a razor going into her skin.
“Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death,” says ReportingonSuicide.org, a website developed by leading professionals in suicide prevention. “Suicide Contagion, or ‘Copycat Suicide,’ occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.”
Netflix stated that as graphic as the scene is, the graphic nature was intentional. In the novel, the suicide is committed by taking pills. The streaming service told SELF, an online newspaper, that they wanted to show that suicide is not as easy as going to sleep after taking pills. They wanted to show that it is painful and scary. They wanted to evoke a strong emotional response from viewers.
Perhaps the response was far too emotional. There was a 26 percent spike in google searches for “how to commit suicide” a short 19 days after the show’s initial premiere. Correlation may not be causation, as many who took a statistics class may know, but the evidence, the spike in suicide rates in conjunction with the shows premiere and the disturbing google searches, is pointing to the positive in this case.
The show is getting a third season, and the damage has been done. The streaming service could pull the show, address some of the issues they have been warned against and criticized for. They could rewrite the entire third season to be better. But it is too little too late. Even with the PSA the main cast filmed, out of character, Netflix has shown that they value the money that a series can pull in, over the lives of real teenagers that are being affected by what is on the screen.