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Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’ web may not be linked to high US suicide rates, new study claims

Contrary to the findings of a 2019 study that associated the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’ with an increase in suicide rates among youth after the show’s release, a new study stressed that there is no evidence to draw such a link.

After its release in 2017, ’13 Reasons Why’ spurred controversy over concerns that its portrayal of a teenage girl’s suicide could increase suicide contagion among adolescents.

Though a much-publicised 2019 study found a contagion effect among boys, a subsequent reanalysis of that data by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania concluded that, to the contrary, the series had no clear effect on teen suicide.

Now, in a pair of commentaries published in the journal PLOS ONE, the original authors challenged the APPC reanalysis and APPC research director Daniel Romer defended his critique.

“We stand by our reanalysis. There is no reason or evidence to suggest that the show had an effect before it was even released,” said Romer.

“And as the authors of the study acknowledged, one would expect the show to have a strong effect on female adolescents, which was not found,” Romer added.

In their 2019 paper, researchers claimed to find an increase in suicide in 10- to 17-year-old boys over as long as a 10-month period, starting the month before Netflix released the series.

But an APPC reanalysis of that data, published early in 2020, failed to detect any reliable increase in suicide in girls and an increase for boys one month before and one month after the release in April 2017.

In their new PLOS commentary, the researchers responded that Netflix “was actively broadcasting advertisements and series’ trailers” in March 2017 “that targeted youth and encouraged them to watch this dramatisation of an adolescent girl’s suicide.”

But Romer found that considerable evidence that the show did not create concerns about contagion until April, citing other independent analyses that focused on April as the point at which Google searches and crisis-line discussions began to rise.

The study found no change in trend the month before the release and a sharp decrease shortly after the release of the series.

The researchers found that viewing the second season of “13 Reasons Why” may have had beneficial effects on some young viewers and harmful effects on other viewers.

“These opposing effects make it difficult to determine whether the potentially harmful effect for some female adolescents was counterbalanced by beneficial effects for others,” Romer said.

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