Contrary to the findings of a 2019 study that associated the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” with an increase in monthly suicide rates among youth after the show’s release, a new analysis finds no evidence to draw such a link.
The reanalysis, published in the journal PLOS ONE, revealed that after controlling for the dramatic increase in adolescent suicide in recent years, the show’s release had no clear effect.
“Our reanalysis casts considerable doubt on the show having an effect on boys,” said study author Dan Romer and research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Centre (APPC) from the University of Pennsylvania in the US.
The reanalysis found that the increase in the suicide rate for boys observed in the original study by Jeffrey Bridge and colleagues for three months after the series’ release was no longer evident after controlling for the ongoing trend in adolescent suicide.
In addition, the increase seen during the first month of the release began the month prior to the release, making it difficult to attribute the rise to the show. The reanalysis found no effects in the subsequent months of that year.
The original time-series analysis of suicide rates found an additional 195 suicide deaths among boys ages 10 to 17 during the nine months following the series’ release, on March 31, 2017, but did not find a similar result among adolescent girls.
Romer said he questioned that finding for two reasons: “First, contagion would be expected to be stronger for girls than boys because this show focuses on the suicide of a high school girl. Second, the prior analysis didn’t take into account strong secular trends in suicide, especially in boys from 2016-2017.”
When the first season of the Netflix show appeared in 2017, it created widespread concern that its graphic portrayal of a teenage girl’s suicide would lead to imitation among vulnerable young people, especially adolescent girls.
The first such study found evidence of a jump in suicides among boys ages 10 to 17 in the three months following the show’s release, but no effect for girls.
Romer said that analysis relied on a forecasting method to project the likely trend in suicide for 2017. But that forecast failed to anticipate the actual trend.
A second study by different researchers, published in JAMA Psychiatry had a similar problem, Romer said.
That study found an effect in boys and girls 10 to 19 years old in the three months following the series’ release.
But it similarly failed to control for the secular trend in suicide, again making it difficult to separate the effects of the show from the trend.
APPC’s reanalysis did find a modest rise in the suicide rate among adolescent girls during the first month following the release of “13 Reasons Why,” but it was not statistically reliable, the researchers said.