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Teen Suicide Spike Linked to Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”

Teen Suicide Spike Linked to Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”

Ever wonder if the media your tweens and teens are watching influences their moods and mental health? Consider this. In the month following the release of the critically acclaimed but controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” the suicide rate among Americans ages 10-17 jumped by nearly 30 percent! The series, which began streaming on Netflix in 2017, follows the story of a teenage girl who took her own life and left behind 13 audiocassettes for her friends that unravel the reasons why she did it.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, analyzed five years of suicide rates among people between the ages of 10 to 64. Although there was no change in suicide rates for adults in the month after the show’s release, the rate among those under 18 rose dramatically. And it was particularly evident among boys.

These findings are troubling and should be a wake-up call for parents.

Young Brains Still Under Construction

Young people’s brains are still developing until their mid-20s, with girls’ brains typically developing faster than boys’ brains. In particular, the prefrontal cortex is the last area of the brain to mature at about age 25.  

This brain region is involved in judgment, planning, forethought, and impulse control. So, you can understand why teens—and especially male teens—are more likely to make rash decisions. Even car insurance companies know this. It’s why they charge more until a driver reaches their mid-20s.

Troubled Teen Brains

Sadly, suicide is a growing problem in our society. The overall rate of suicide has increased 33 percent since 1999. It is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34. And teens today are more likely to have suicidal thoughts or to suffer from depression compared with Millennials when they were the same age.

Reducing the Teen Suicide Risk

There are many things parents can do to help protect their kids from falling victim to suicide.

1. Monitor their media consumption.

Parents need to understand that what your kids and teens watch on television, online, and on social media can play a role in the development of their brain. Set limits, use parental controls, and talk to your kids about what they’re watching.

2. Don’t let adolescents smoke marijuana.

Research shows that using cannabis as an adolescent raises the risk of depression and increases suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts when they become young adults.

3. Encourage healthy sleep habits.

Did you know that teenagers who average just one hour less of sleep at night are 38 percent more likely to feel sad and hopeless, 42 percent more likely to consider suicide, and 58 percent more likely to attempt suicide?

4. Protect their brain.

Head injuries and concussions—even mild ones that are never diagnosed—increase the risk for suicide. Make sure young people always wear a helmet when riding a bike and don’t let your kids hit soccer balls with their heads.

5. Seek help for mental health issues.

If your child is experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or ADD/ADHD, it’s critical to seek help for those issues. Be aware that medications don’t always work, and in some cases, they can make a teen worse. Getting a comprehensive evaluation is key to finding solutions that work.

At Amen Clinics, we have helped thousands of teens and tweens overcome feelings of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, as well as to gain control over impulse control issues. We believe in using the least toxic, most effective treatments based on comprehensive evaluations that include brain imaging, lab work, and cognitive testing. If you have concerns about your teen, reach out today by calling 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.

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COMMENTS

  1. Brenda Ford says:

    My son Spencer is 36 years old. He is an alcoholic. He has been living with us the past 4 years and I know we are not helping him but don’t know what to do. He has been “clean” for about 8 months now. He works, sometimes, 20 hours a week at Amazon. The rest of the time he is in our basement watching shows and movies from his past. We are 66 years old and want to retire and move on but we don’t know what to do with Spencer. He has no friends, does not socialize. Does not try to do ANYTHING. We are scared to kick him out for fear of suicide. We are just at a totally lose. It saddens be beyond belief to see him like this, He should be in the prime of his life.

    When he was 20 his best friend was killed and he had to ID the body. He has never gotten over it and will not let it go. We have tried at least 10 times to send him to counseling but he always stops going. We have no way of affording a scan and he is on medicaid, which will not pay for this.
    Just hoping you can make some suggests for me to help him.

    Thank you,

    Brenda Ford

  2. Nedja Brown says:

    Thank you for such an informative article Dr. Amen. As always I respect your medical advice and share with others what I have learned from you. Please keep these coming.

  3. Mary Turpin says:

    Thank you for posting this. I was so upset to hear another ‘season’ was coming and have been so concerned for all of our young people (my 3 plus all others). My teen daughters watched it without me knowing. I realize now how important my involvement and watching it with them if they are going to watch it is.

    • Sheila Koren says:

      As an adult and psychotherapist, I thought that 13 Reasons Why did a good job of showing the dangers of not talking with parents and school counselors about a hurting teen’s real feelings and concerns. I suppose it could fairly be said that it did perhaps glamorize suicide in that flash backs kept the dead character seemingly alive –or at least on screen –after her suicide and certainly the center of everyone’s attention.

      But I don’t think the answer is in not airing such programs or in not reading the books in which they might be based. There were possibly many tend helped by what they learned from the show as well. Teen suffering is real, and teen needs to be noticed and attended to carefully is as critical as ever, with or without Netflix.

      For those of us for whom brain scans are economically not feasible, that is, most of us, we’ll have to focus on connecting better with the teens in our lives and making sure they have the opportunity to be seen and heard and have allies to help with their challenges.

      If your scans are truly effective, maybe you could talk Kaiser and other Health Care Providers ( and the Insurance Companies who dictate their policies) to purchase and use them for the good of most of us who can not otherwise afford to benefit from them.

  4. Roberta Allen says:

    Thank you for important piece of information.

  5. Pamela Caldwell says:

    Stop telling these kids that they’re in the best years of their life.

  6. Todd says:

    Thank you for the update on the Netflix show (13 reasons why). Our son has had two classmates in the last five years commit suicide. It would be very helpful for a lot of Parents to be able to know how to block this title from their Netflix account. There is a setting in account on Netflix for parental controls where you can set a pin number and block specific titles from your entire Netflix account. It would also be very helpful If possible to provide some links to specific petitions that are trying to have this title removed from Netflix entirely. There is one petition that we have signed today called change.org that only has 350 signed petitions but with the exposure from your site it would be very easy to get that number into the thousands and have this title removed. Thank you so much for the helpful information. Mary Fisher

  7. Sue says:

    Todd, you can go to the AFA (American Family Association) website and sign their petition. They have many names on theirs.

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