- Netflix's web series in the US entitled “13 Reasons Why” showing suicide scenes, could influence teens who watch the episodes alone, to be more vulnerable of committing suicide
- Proper parental guidance and supervision could prevent the occurrence of these suicidal tendencies in their children
Teenagers who watched a popular Netflix streaming web series called "13 Reasons Why" could be at an increased risk of committing suicide, reveals a new study carried out by a research team at the University of Michigan, USA. The study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, showed that a significant proportion of teens treated at a Psychiatric Emergency Department had watched the web series.
The web series, which is a hit with teenagers, has generated controversy because of its graphic depiction of suicide. The story revolves around a 17-year old teenager, who, before taking her life, recorded cassettes containing 13 reasons why she did so. The show has raised concern amongst psychiatrists regarding the negative effects it could have on vulnerable minds.
Study ObjectiveThe objective of the study was to elucidate the impact of the series on the minds of vulnerable teenagers who, after watching the series for about a year, presented at the Psychiatric Emergency Department with problems related to suicidal tendencies.
Study MethodsThe study was carried out between 2017 and 2018 and included 87 teen-parent dyads. The average age of the teenagers was 15 years. Of the 87 participants, 71 percent were females, 27 percent were males, and two percent did not confirm. The participants completed detailed questionnaires during their visit to the Psychiatric Emergency Department. The questionnaires developed by the researchers included 44-items that aimed to assess several aspects of the teenagers' interactions with "13 Reasons Why", while exercising caution so that those who were not aware of the series, did not come to know of it. Teens who were not aware of the show weren't asked any further questions.
Study FindingsOut of the 87 participants who took part in the survey, about half (49%) had watched at least one episode of season 1 of the show. These mostly included teens between the ages of 13 and 17 years. Of the 43 teens who had watched the series, about half (51%) said it increased their suicidal tendency. The majority of these teen viewers strongly identified themselves with the lead female character, Hannah Baker. Importantly, Hannah is easy to identify with, since she is a teenager who has suffered from anxiety, bullying and sexual assault, which unfortunately, also impacts many teens in real life in modern day society.
Although the study couldn't emphatically prove that the show increased the risk of suicide, it however, confirmed that there was cause for concern. In this regard, Dr. Hong 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."
Study ImplicationsA major implication of the study was that since the majority of the teens surveyed viewed the series alone (84%), they were reluctant to share their feelings with a parent (34%), than with peers (80%). This lack of parental supervision has been highly detrimental for the impressionable and vulnerable minds of the at-risk teenagers. Importantly, many of the parents interviewed had not watched the series themselves and were not even aware that their children were watching it.
In spite of the fact that the second season of the series carried a disclaimer urging teenagers to watch the series under parental supervision, they still watched alone. Importantly, the data generated by the study indicates that those teenagers at high risk of suicide failed to seek help from adults.
Clash of OpinionsThere is a difference of opinion between the present study and a previous study by Netflix, which found that 71 percent of teenagers in their sample had shared their thoughts about the series with a parent, as opposed to 35 percent in the present study. Dr. Hong indicated that this possibly arose from the reluctance of the teenagers at high risk of suicide to have such discussions with their parents, due to their unstable mental status.
Expert CommentsDr. Cheryl King, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan, USA, and the study's senior author, said: "Our findings support the need for tailored prevention programming for vulnerable youths and education and training for their parents."
"Parents whose kids may be vulnerable or at a high risk for suicide should be even more diligent about what their kids watch and if they are being exposed to content that could trigger them," she adds. "They also shouldn't shy away from open, honest and difficult conversations with their kids about these topics."
Future StudiesThe research team indicated that further research is required to properly assess the impact of teen suicide topics presented by the media and how these can influence the mental health and suicide risk of teenage viewers.
- 13 Reasons Why: Viewing patterns and perceived impact among youths at risk of suicide - (https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ps.201800384)