My friend, Lisa Horowitz, PhD is a scientist on suicide prevention at National Institute of Mental Health whom I met through Dr. Ted Abernathy about three years ago. We have since co-presented on the ASQ suicide screening tool.
While speaking with a panel of prestigious researchers on youth suicide prevention in Baltimore, MD at a Pediatric Conference (I was the one with lived experience), there was considerable buzz about a suicide study the group had just completed that showed a significant increase in youth suicide after the first season of 13 Reasons Why.
Netflix is in the process of starting season three and when they publish the new season, it rekindles interest in the earlier seasons.
So they made the decision to pull the gratuitous scene of suicide in season one stating that a series is not worth the risk of lives lost although they disagreed with the results of the study. I watched the scene. Well, I sort of watched it through my fingers and sometimes with closed eyes. And when I did I was very concerned. The scene of the main character in the bathtub ending her life was a “how-to lesson” on suicide.
Talking about suicide does not give someone the idea. However, talking in detail about suicide method can trigger vulnerable and impressionable populations such as teenagers. There is always danger of contagion with youth audiences and it’s important to handle the topic responsibly.
They said they were keeping it real. But experts were arguing it was irresponsible and dangerous.
Netflix always drops all the episodes in a bundle and as a result, the teen audience binges it which in this case with season one, was dangerous. I personally feel the binging was a contributing factor to the rise in suicides.
Season two of 13 Reasons Why was far more responsible, incorporating support groups, supportive parents, and acknowledgement that childhood trauma and mental illness predisposes people to negative coping strategies like substance misuse, cutting and emotional dysregulation.
The good news is that changes have been made and I hope other shows focusing on this sensitive topic will ask for consultation from nonprofits such as the JED Foundation or American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. It’s great to open up the conversation but seeking expert advice can help avoid unnecessary loss of life.