The month after the release of 'For 13 Reasons' was the month with the most youthful suicides of the last 19 years in the US

Two years ago, ’For 13 Reasons’ became a social phenomenon. In fact, the Netflix series was, in many ways, more than just a series. The crude account that broke down, one by one, the reasons why Hannah Baker decided to kill herself was a blow to a society that has been bordering on bullying for many years, bulling and contempt without knowing very well what to do.

The creators never hid that they wanted the topic to be discussed and they succeeded. So much so that, in those months, many psychologists and educators warned that the series, due to the way it treated the problem, could end up producing a Wether effect. Widely advertised suicides (if not advertised correctly) serve as a model for future suicides: if we were not careful, experts told us, suicide rates after the series was published could increase.

The series has been the subject of study in recent years, helping us to better understand the weight of fiction in society. And now, sadly, a study funded by the United States National Institute of Health (NIH) has just shown that these concerns could be more justified.

A sadly historic month

According to data from the paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the month after the show's premiere there was a 28.9% increase in suicides among Americans ages 10 to 17. It was the month with the highest number of suicides in the last five years (of the last 19 years if we ignore the statements of Jeff Bridge, the main author, in the Associated Press) and the rest of the year there were 195 more suicides than expected if historical trends had been maintained.

It is important to specify that this is an epidemiological study. That means that we cannot conclude any type of causality: we cannot say that “For 13 reasons” caused that peak of youthful suicides. However, there is a very strong correlation that also coincides with what we knew about the matter: that to ignore the WHO recommendations is to enter dangerous territory.

The increase in cases occurred in both women and men. But it was only statistically significant in the latter. Statistical significance is a technical measure that allows us to ensure that this rise in the suicide rate is not due to chance. In the case of women, since their general figures are sadly higher, the peak was not high enough to rule out chance (as we can do in the case of men).

It is not the topics, but the way we treat them

Since Netflix the reactions have been swift. A company spokesperson explained that "they were analyzing the study" that it was · a critically important issue and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this issue responsibly. "They also noted that the study conflicted with a recent research) from the University of Pennsylvania on the second season of the series.

At work, the data indicated that young people (ages 18-29) who had watched the entire second season "reported drops in suicidal ideation and self-management relative to those who did not watch the show at all." However, the same study notes that those who stopped watching the series halfway "showed a higher risk of suicide and less optimism about the future." The researchers pointed out something that we already knew is fundamental: that “a fictional story focused on suicide content can have harmful or useful effects” depending on how it is designed.

"The results of this study should raise awareness that young people are particularly vulnerable to the media," said Lisa Horowitz, co-author of the NIH study. "Everyone, including the media, must be careful to be constructive and serious about issues that intersect with public health crises." It is a pertinent reflection: the scientific evidence has been pointing for decades that it is not the topics, but the way we treat them that makes the difference. Often, good intentions are not enough.

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