In 2017, Netflix released a series based on a book from 2007. “13 Reasons Why” tells the story of a teenage girl commits suicide, leaving behind 13 audio recordings addressed to the people she believes are responsible for her decision. The show immediately received criticism among mental health professionals, who accused Netflix of glamorizing suicide. It certainly seems strange to have the main character, who is dead, serve as the narrator, as if she is somehow watching the events of the show unfold. Though the creators intended the show to expose the effects of bullying, slut-shaming, and other behaviors common among teenagers, “13 Reasons Why” could easily be read as a revenge fantasy, as Hannah uses her tapes to accuse the people she blames for her death from beyond the grave.
Professionals were most concerned that the show would encourage teens to kill themselves. A recent study may shed more light on the question. At the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, monthly and annual rates of people between 10-64 years of age are measured and reported. The study ran from 2013 to 2017. It revealed that in the moth following the release of “13 Reasons Why,” the suicide rate went up in the 10-17 year old group. It was the highest rate (in that age group) of the five-year study.
Most of those who died were boys, whose rate went up by 28.9% in the month following “13 Reasons Why.” Does this mean the show is to blame? It’s more complicated than that. We don’t even know if those kids watched the show. However, teen suicide is a huge problem. It’s the third leading cause of death for Americans between 10 and 24-years old. Boys are more likely to die from suicide, though girls report more suicide attempts.
In response to this study, Netflix says it will investigate further. Even if the show isn’t directly to blame for rising suicide rates, it definitely plays a role in a dangerous environment that can confuse vulnerable teens. “13 Reasons Why” and the idea that someone can get revenge on the people they blame after death could make kids believe suicide is a solution; they become martyrs. After pressure from mental health groups, Netflix did add a trigger warning before the show and included information on getting help for depression on the show’s website. In the 2nd season, “13 Reasons Why” shifted its narrative slightly to one that tackled rape culture, and there’s a third season on the way, but Netflix and the show creators should still be aware of the lasting impact of its messages on suicide.