Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why has been controversial since it first premiered in 2017. The series, based on the bestselling YA novel by Jay Asher, follows the story of Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), who receives a series of cassette tapes from his friend/unrequited crush, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who has since killed herself. Over the course of the first season, Hannah discusses the events that led to her suicide, which include bullying, sexual harassment, rape, and betrayal.
The melodramatic series drew controversy in its first season, mainly for its romanticized depiction of suicide and lack of content warnings for sexual assault and violence. Suicide awareness groups were quick to call out the show, with Dan Reidenberg, executive director for Suicide Voices of Education (SAVE), expressing concerns that “The show actually doesn’t present a viable alternative to suicide, the show doesn’t talk about mental illness or depression, doesn’t name those words. My thoughts about the series are that its probably done more harm than any good.”
Now, a new study from the University of Michigan suggests that the series may have a detrimental effect on teens already at risk. The study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, surveyed 87 teens who were admitted to psychiatric emergency facilities for “suicide-related concerns” in 2017 and 2018. 49% of teens in the survey (of mostly girls) had watched at least one episode, while 84% of those had watched it by themselves.
Depressed teens who exhibited suicidal ideation where more likely to identify with Hannah’s character, and over half of the viewers said they thought that watching the show increased their risk of suicide. The series does play into the “romantic suicide” tropes and the revenge fantasy of blaming those left behind in the wake of a suicide.
Dr. Victor Hong was moved to conduct the study after what he calls a “significant uptick in terms of the volume of teens coming in with suicidal issues” who name-checked the show. He said, “Some of them had even said that it was a real factor in why their suicidality or depression had worsened.” Continue Reading