When 13 Reasons Why premiered in 2017, the show immediately captivated viewers. The Netflix series followed the story of Hannah Baker, a young girl who dies by suicide, in an attempt to understand why she did what she did. And while the show sparked a national conversation about mental health and suicide, it wasn’t without controversy. Many worried 13 Reasons Why glamorized the act, and now it seems those concerns may have been valid.
According to a new study conducted by the University of Michigan and published in the journal Psychiatric Services, the series may have contributed to some teen suicides in terms of their thoughts, ideations and/or attempts.
For the study, researchers surveyed 87 teenagers who were being treated in psychiatric emergency departments for suicide-related concerns. The patients were asked to complete a questionnaire during their visit, and according to the results, 49 percent of the teenagers surveyed had watched one episode of 13 Reasons Why (or more) and 84 percent watched it alone.
But that wasn’t the most remarkable finding. Of those who had watched the series, more than half believed watching it increased their risk of suicide, as they “strongly identified” with Baker’s personal pain and struggles.
As such, the authors of the study concluded that while “further research is needed, the findings suggest a particular vulnerability to the show’s themes among youths at risk of suicide and the importance of prevention strategies to ameliorate risk among these viewers.”
Dr. Victor Hong, the medical director of psychiatric emergency services at Michigan Medicine and lead author of the study, told BuzzFeed News he and his team decided to conduct the study after noticing a “significant uptick in terms of the volume of teens coming in with suicidal issues,” some of whom “said that it [13 Reasons Why] was a real factor in why their suicidality or depression had worsened.”
So what can parents, medical professionals and television producers do? Hong hopes this information will make everyone a bit more thoughtful. Perhaps we can we “be a little bit more cautious, or a little bit more thoughtful, about the content that we’re putting out to teenagers.”
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org or text “START” to 741-741 to immediately speak to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line.