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Study Links Netflix Series '13 Reasons Why' With Spike In Suicides

(KPIX 5) -- A new study is linking a Netflix series on teen suicide with an increase in suicides in the months after the show's release.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, focused on the controversial teen drama, "13 Reasons Why." The 13-part dramatic series which debuted on Netflix in March, 2017, followed how a teenage girl - a fictional character named Hannah Baker - died by suicide.

The new study found an association between the popular show and teen suicides. Using monthly suicide statistics, and social media data, researchers detected an immediate jump in teen suicides in the three months after the show was released.

"We can't for sure say that the casualty is there, but there's not really good other explanations that I can see. Given our previous data on contagion effects, it's likely this was caused by the show," said Shaller.

Shaller was not involved in the study, but she works with suicidal teens.

"Suicide clusters where there is one suicide and other attempts or deaths are a real thing," said Shaller. "I've been here at UCSF and we've seen several in different Bay Area high schools and communities."

Separately, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released death rate estimates for the 15 leading causes of death in the United States, including Alzheimer's, cancer, homicides, and heart disease. When compared to last year, death rates are either flat or in some cases are even edging downwards.

However, when it comes to suicide, the study suggests a troubling trend. While the data is provisional and some cases are still under investigation, the numbers are creeping upwards, and suicide remains a leading cause of death.

Previous reports indicated how one vulnerable population are the young. The reasons are complex and it's rarely caused by any single factor, but some experts worry about social media and what's termed: media contagion.

Local experts told KPIX 5 that they saw what they described as a horrifying consequence to the Netflix series.

"We definitely saw a spike in the attempts and teen copycat behavior," recalled Van Hedwall, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works for San Francisco Suicide Prevention.

Hedwall told KPIX that media contagion or "copycats" are a real phenomenon. "Considering that our youth nowadays are so much affected by media and our cell phones," noted Hedwall.

"I mean most of the people watching this interview right now are watching it streaming and kids have access to these devices and the ability to see things that often their parents don't know that they're watching," added University of California, San Francisco psychologist Esme Shaller.

Netflix refuted the JAMA study. In a statement provided to KPIX 5, a spokesperson for Netflix wrote that another study using the same data contradicts the study's conclusions and that the series actually provided a help for those contemplating dying by suicide.

"'13 Reasons Why' tackles the uncomfortable reality of life for many young people today, and we've heard from them, as well as other medical experts, that it gave many viewers the courage to speak up and get help," the statement said.

Shaller hopes parents go further.

"If you hear of a suicide in the media of a celebrity that your teen may know of ... or a friend of a friend of theirs made an attempt or died by suicide take it seriously and talk to your teen about it talk openly about the risk and make sure that conversation is happening," said Shaller.

If you want to talk to someone or experiencing negative thoughts, know there are treatment options and resources out there.

As for the new report released Monday night, the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics based its reports on the current flow of statistics data from state vital records offices. These are provisional estimates.


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