- Romer D. PLoS ONE.2020;15:e0227545, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0227545.
A reanalysis of data that showed suicides among youths rose after the release of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” found the increase may not be related to the show.
The series centers on a high school girl who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 cassette tapes for people she blames for her death. After the series was released on March 31, 2017, many people raised concerns that it would prompt suicide contagion.
To determine if there was an association between the series and suicide rates, researchers conducted an interrupted time series segmented regression analysis and used a forecasting method to predict expected suicide rates after the series was released. They found suicide rates among U.S. males ages 10-17 years were significantly higher in April, June and December 2017 than the model predicted (http://bit.ly/2OpPLFl).
Daniel Romer, Ph.D., research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, questioned the findings, noting that if contagion were at play, suicides among teenage girls would have increased since the series’ protagonist was female. In addition, he said the study did not account for secular trends in suicide, which showed rates increased among boys from 2016-’17.
Dr. Romer reanalyzed the data using a simple auto-regression model that tested for changes in suicide rates after removing auto-correlation and national trends in suicide. Results showed the increase in suicides among boys in April 2017 was no greater than in the month before the show was released, and rates did not increase later in the year. Among girls, there was a statistically insignificant increase in suicides in April 2017.
A previous study by Dr. Romer and colleagues found some viewers reported less suicidal ideation and self-harm after watching the second season of “13 Reasons Why” compared to nonviewers (http://bit.ly/3bgMfXp).
“Even if the series also had a positive effect for some viewers, the producers should recognize the potential for harm to vulnerable audience members,” Dr. Romer said in a news release. “It should be possible to produce a show that highlights the challenges that young people face without also producing suicide contagion.”