Study says "13 Reasons Why" is correlated to increased suicide rates

Thursday, November 29, 2018 - 7:45pm

Dr. Victor Hong, medical director of the University of Michigan’s Psychiatric Emergency Service, called attention to the correlation between “13 Reasons Why” and increased suicide rates in a study published earlier this month.

According to Hong, in the months after the show’s release, he saw the volume of teenagers coming into his psychiatric hospital with suicidal thoughts increase by 40 to 50 percent. This increase motivated Hong to conduct a study, in which he found that 51 percent of his sampled patients who had watched the show experienced their suicide risk increase.

Released in spring 2017, “13 Reasons Why” is a popular teen drama television series depicting the events that drove fictional character Hannah Baker to suicide. Since its release, the show has received generally positive reviews from critics and audiences for its subject matter and acting, but has been especially controversial among parents and mental health experts for the manner in which it portrays Baker’s suicide.

For Hong, one of the main issues with the show is how graphically it depicts Baker’s suicide.

“There were several parents of teens who said their kids attempted to kill themselves in a copycat form,” Hong said.

Hong also critiqued the way the adults were portrayed in the film and its glorification of suicide.

“The adults in the show are pretty incompetent,” he said. “And so people in the suicide prevention society worry that if you portray adults in that way, teens will think it’s not worth going to adults. The other concern is that the act is portrayed as a revenge fantasy … That is a somewhat attractive notion to vulnerable youth.”

Since its release, Hong’s work has received recognition from national outlets with BuzzFeedNewsweek and Pacific Standard all citing the study.

Among U-M students, opinions of “13 Reasons Why” are mixed, with some students critiquing the show for its intensity and others praising it for bringing the issue of teen suicide to light.

One student who shared some of the concerns about the show was Engineering freshman Anusha Bohra, who disagrees with its portrayal.

“It was just like a very different approach for a typical teen TV show, it was pretty intense, it was pretty heavy,” she said. “I thought it portrays the whole suicide topic in a way that isn’t necessarily true for everyone who has experiences something similar to that.”

However, Bohra did not find the show to have personally affected her or any of her friends.

“In the past, I had had experience dealing with the whole depression topic, so it didn’t really change my opinion on it,” Bohra said. “I think it was more just a topic of discussion because a lot of us had talked about it before. It might have helped (my friends) form their opinions, but I don’t know if it personally affected them.”

LSA freshman Elizabeth Davis, however, believed the show had more positive of an impact. Having lost her godsister to suicide, Davis found the show to be valuable because of its portrayal of the impact different everyday actions can have.

“I would say that even little things can affect people in different ways,” Davis said. “I think it was the second season where she started really explaining why. Some people they figure what they did wasn’t as bad as what other people did but she was already in a state where anything was detrimental to her. People should just think about the impact the things they do have.”

Additionally, she found the show’s portrayal of adults to be accurate because of how much the world has changed since they were teenagers.

“I think the show’s portrayal of adults is partly true because most of people’s parents grew up 40, 50 years ago,” she said. “It’s different now, it’s harder to do stuff now. Sometimes I feel like they’re not as sensitive as (they) should be.”

The study was the first of its kind examining youth viewing patterns and reactions to the series.