Study Finds That '13 Reasons Why' Increased Teen Suicide Risk

A Study Found That '13 Reasons Why' Increased Suicide Risk In Teens

Should we pretend to be surprised?

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A newly released study shows a connection between the popular Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" and suicide risks in teenagers treated in psychiatric emergency departments at the hospital.

The show, commonly referred to as "13RW," gained vast popularity and attention among young adults since its premiere in 2017. The story begins with a 17-year-old high school student who, before committing suicide, recorded 13 audio tapes that discuss 13 different contributing factors to why she took her own life. The story then follows the ensuing drama among her peers in high school as they find the different tapes and discover more about her life.

The show was also met with extreme backlash and controversy from mental health experts, parents, and educators alike for its depiction of mental illness and suicide, which has been criticized as glorification or romanticization.

That's exactly why researchers at Michigan Medicine wanted to study "13 Reasons Why" and any potential contributions to suicide risks in teens already experiencing suicidal thoughts or mental illnesses such as depression.

Researchers surveyed 87 teens, out of which 43 reported they had watched at least one episode of the show. Of the 43 who watched, about half said it heightened their risk of suicide. The study also found that most teens watched the shows alone and weren't likely to discuss their reactions with a parent.

The majority of teens who reported that the show increased their suicide risk also said that they strongly identified with the main character, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide after recording audio tapes about what influenced her decision.

And while one single study doesn't confirm that the show increases suicide risks in all teens, it still presents extremely troubling information. We already know that movies, TV shows, and other media have an extreme influence on how we perceive topics such as mental illness and suicide. And we already know that young adults and teenagers are especially impressionable just by nature, too. These facts, along with the study's results, confirm that shows such as "13 Reasons Why" CAN have a serious impact on vulnerable youth and how they understand themselves, others, and difficult topics like mental health and suicide. The impact is even more daunting considering how many teenagers avoid talking with parents, teachers, or other adults in their life about such topics.

Mental illness, suicide, bullying, and sexual assault are already highly stigmatized topics in our society that are often just shoved under the rug due to ignorance, stereotypes, fear, or the general lack of knowledge and how to manage them. If we never talk about these things, how can we be surprised when they continue to happen? When we act like it doesn't exist, the media becomes the only figure to characterize and shape subjects like mental illness and suicide - and the media is notorious for stereotyping, romanticizing, glamorizing, or misrepresenting many real-life issues, including mental health. Teenagers are specifically in need of support and direction from parents, counselors, or other adults but are arguably the least likely to ever seek it out.

That's why it's so, so important that conversations about mental health, suicide, bullying, and sexual assault are normalized in our society. Everyone - especially young people - needs to accurately understand their mental health and how to deal with issues like mental illnesses, suicidal thoughts, or bullying. When we teach people that it's okay and normal to struggle with mental health and thoughts of suicide, they become more comfortable reaching out to others and seeking treatment. Leading people to the resources and help they need lets them know that there IS help out there, and that suicide is NOT the answer or solution to "get back" at people who bullied or assaulted them, like the main character in "13RW" suggests. Mental health is something we ALL deal with, so we all deserve to have an understanding and a clear path to seeking help.

Make sure the people around you - whether those are your friends, family, children, peers at school, or co-workers - know that it is OKAY to struggle with mental health or suicidal thoughts. No one should be ashamed of having a mental illness or of having been bullied or sexually assaulted in the past. Make sure others know that struggling with suicide risks or mental health problems doesn't mark the end of their lives and won't last forever, too; and there are plenty of resources and treatment options to help. Starting an open, honest conversation in your community about such topics will normalize discussion and acceptance and end the harmful stigma that the media paints around mental health.

Visit credible websites such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, MentalHealth.gov, and Mental Health America for facts, educational tools, resources, and guides for discussing mental health and available resources in your community.

Visit The "#YouDefineYou" Project for additional resources for mental health, suicide prevention, bullying, sexual assault, addiction, and other situations.

To learn more about the study, click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

From an outside perspective, suicidal thoughts are rarely looked into deeper than the surface level. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is that people live in between those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead.

You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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Depression Is A Balancing Act That Is And Isn't In Our Control

Managing depression can sometimes feel overwhelming.

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*Warning: Before reading any further is that this article will be talking about heavy topics such as depression and suicide.*

Depression in this day and age is a very sticky topic to talk about. Yes, we are becoming more aware and accepting of the issue, but we still have a long ways to go in terms of really know how we can be there for people in a way that's most effective and where they don't feel judged because of it.

I have dealt with depression most of my life and especially going through college. It didn't become a big thing for me till I came to college, and then having to navigate my issue of it. Whether that's talking about it friends vaguely about it, bottling it all in, going for professional help, etc. It's one of the many reasons why I'm afraid of meeting someone new, or wanting to be in a relationship, I was afraid of the judgment and feeling that if I told someone they either might not want to do anything with me, say it's too much for them, etc.

Now some of those fears, in my opinion, were unjustified in a sense that yes even though it is important for people to be there for me in my time of need, I need to be conscious of how much I share and whether they can take that piece of me I shared. It's a balancing act that is hard to manage, but it allows me for a much-needed look into myself of what actually makes me happy, what doesn't, what triggers my depression and going out of my way to make sure I don't let it take control of me.

The depression took me to places, very dark places that I'm happy to have push through, with my depression it made my thoughts go into suicidal ideation, and even hurting myself, an act that I never thought I would ever do but thankfully I had people in my life that helped me overcome that and going to talk to a professional.

Depression is a mental health issue that most everyone struggles with regardless of where they're at in life, it can come like a tidal wave, or not at all. It's an internal struggle with ourselves, and we do our best trying to get through it. I know that I'm not alone in this, and if you're reading this you're not alone either.

Don't be afraid to talk about it, but be mindful of other people and how much you can share in order for them to be able to process it, go for professional help, exercise, hang out with friends. Don't let depression fully control your life, it won't go away but if we can manage it in a way that helps us be able to keep it under control then that's a win.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255

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