Can a TV Show Kill? It’s a Complicated Question.

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13 Reasons study

Underneath the reviews, the blog posts, the vodcasts and Twitter missives, Plugged In is built on one basic premise: Media matters.

The entertainment we consume—the stories we watch and read and listen to and play—impact us deeply, and on levels we might not fully realize. Obviously, the relationship between entertainment and its real-world impact is complex and extraordinarily difficult to parse. Some would deny any impact at all. And yet instinctively we know it’s there: Critics praise “important” movies. Journalists explore the influence of long-running television shows on society. Directors and actors talk about how they hope a given project “makes people think” or “starts a conversation.” To deny the influence of entertainment is like denying the influence of the weather.

And this week, we saw tragic, albeit, tentative new evidence: A new study by the National Institute of Mental Health found evidence that the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why might’ve led to a rise in real-world suicides.

This wasn’t unexpected, really. Mental health officials warned that the show—which was predicated on the suicide of a 17-year-old girl and which graphically depicts how she took her life—might have a negative impact on suicidal youth who watched  it. Indeed, in the aftermath, online searches and doctor visits related to suicide spiked. Anecdotally, a few parents—grieving the loss of their own children to suicide—alleged that 13 Reasons Why contributed to their son’s or daughter’s death.

Still, the study itself is pretty sobering.

The first season of 13 Reasons was released in March of 2017. That April, according to the study, 190 tweens and teens took their own lives—a 30% increase compared to the April suicide rate for the five previous years. Suicide rates in June and December of that year went up, too. In all, the study found that 195 more teens and tweens killed themselves in the months following the show’s release than would’ve been statistically expected. The increase was especially significant in teen males.

We should note here that it’s way too simplistic to say that 13 Reasons Why killed these kids. Researchers weren’t looking for any sort of cause-and-effect pattern with the study, instead calling the link a “weak association between the show and suicide in boys.” And as the Los Angeles Times notes, teens had other real-world events that might’ve triggered suicidal inclinations. Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington both killed themselves that year, too.

Netflix seems loathe to turn away from 13 Reasons. After its CEO famously dismissed the show’s triggering potential by saying “nobody has to watch it,” the streaming service changed tack during its second season, posting trigger warnings before each episode and offering (rather sparse) resources to those dealing with the show’s myriad issues. Now, Netflix seems  to want to find the line between thoughtful concern and defending its lucrative, uber-buzzy show.

“We’ve just seen this study and are looking into the research, which conflicts with last week’s study from the University of Pennsylvania,” a Netflix spokesperson told Gizmodo. “This is a critically important topic, and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly.”

I would agree with Netflix on at least one point: Suicide, and teen mental health in general, is indeed a critically important topic. Every week, it seems, we see new research suggesting that  children and teens are struggling with depression and anxiety as never before.  And, if today’s youth are anything like I was when I was a depressed teen, there’s a real danger of them not telling anyone.

If done responsibly, entertainment can potentially be a catalyst to spur healthy conversation between at-risk youth and their parents (or other adults). But the key words here are done responsibly. And that entails upending the traditional entertainment model. The first question creators and producers have to ask is, “Will this help?” Not, “Will this make us more money?” That framework runs counter to everything that modern entertainment has been built on, of course. But in the case of teen mental health, it’s absolutely necessary. After all, it just might be a matter of life and death.

Editor’s Note: Plugged In has watched and reviewed every episode of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, and we’ve put together a comprehensive discussion guide to the show that you can access here. We also offer many resources centered on preventing teen suicide through our Alive to Thrive program.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 6 months ago
We've gotten the moderators out a lot lately...

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
Lol. 
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
I am still quite skeptical of the actual effect of 13RW. Because if you look at the aggregate data, suicide rates have been at a steady increase for the past 20 or so years. 

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=imgres&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiz8ebWuoniAhWBmOAKHWBID0EQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.vox.com%2F2016%2F4%2F22%2F11462052%2Fsuicide-deaths-increase-us&psig=AOvVaw0oszZIS0X12UFtIWRPZO3L&ust=1557319852562168

(ugh....can't believe I actually linked to Vox..)

https://www.google.com/url?
sa=i&source=imgres&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjU4dXfuoniAhVnc98KHSUlCugQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.childtrends.org%2Fhigh-school-aged-youth-considering-and-committing-suicide-among-female-students&psig=AOvVaw3XI9vXOetIot9wz0wiIYjB&ust=1557319871886985

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=imgres&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjI05zhuoniAhVyU98KHSKYBDMQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.usatoday.com%2Fin-depth%2Fnews%2Finvestigations%2Fsurviving-suicide%2F2018%2F11%2F28%2Fsuicide-prevention-suicidal-thoughts-research-funding%2F971336002%2F&psig=AOvVaw15m85i2Ugi1fkW_SaSdVXb&ust=1557319875201391

So it would lead one to question whether the show actually influenced suicide victims, or if it was fairly benign, and they where going to commit suicide regardless.
Again, the study itself admits that it is not a direct cause-and-effect relationship. So I do believe that some nuance is deserved in responding to this 
Anonymous 6 months ago
User Anonymous, what do you think about that? He's proving his point with facts. It's not just opinions we share. 

Also, I agree with Karl.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
Thank you my friend.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Like this post if you think PI needs to consider a sub site for teens.

This is our *ahem* "petition"

Edit: Maybe not jsut for teens as well, maybe teen/college mix.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Paul Asay 6 months ago
Hmmm. Interesting idea. 

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Anonymous 6 months ago
What I got from this is that you think we are all highschoolers who aren't allowed to have opinions and argue those opinions.

I'm glad I don't really care what other people think of me. God's eyes are the only ones who matter.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
Oh well. Looks like I missed whatever that was. Hopefully he posts again lol
Anonymous 6 months ago
He basically said that this comment section is run by teens who have bad opinions and who force them on everyone else as soon as someone says otherwise. The way he worded it basically said our opinions don't matter.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
Well then the mature adults need to get on and actually post and argue their points with valid reasons! Sorry if you think our opinions are wrong and bad IYO, explain why!!! If you have actual valid points to why we are wrong, share them! You can't just say, they're wrong and immature. Yes you might have some years of age on us, but that doesn't mean we're not mature. 

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
I didn't see the deleted post, which I assume was rejected for excessive rudeness.

To all the teens who comment here: Your opinions do matter, and I hope you keep expressing them. But it's worth noting that a blog targeted toward parents has had its comment section co-opted by teens.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but consider it from the perspective of parents who've been using this site for years and are more interested in the effects of media on youth than, say, what's going to happen in the next superhero movie. 

Or consider how Marvel fans would feel if a Marvel fan site were co-opted by boring parents having serious discussions about how whether a popular TV series is affecting teen suicide rates.

-- The Kenosha Kid
Anonymous 6 months ago
Unfortunately for you, I did say it. I posted it on one of my first posts months ago.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
@The Kenosha Kid 
It was pretty rude.
I understand that, but it would be nice if PI had a site for teens, where we can talk like that, I'm all for that. A christian popculture site.

Sounds awesome. Can someone start that please? XD

Also, why can't adults/parents realize that superheroes are also effecting us? Maybe for the good. But right now it seems like they just want to hate on superheroes because it's not from their generation. I hate to break it to you, but Marvel is our Star Wars, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And if you want to disagree, ask anybody who contributed to the $2.1 billion Endgame box office.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

It is pretty annoying how superheroes keep getting brought up on blog posts that have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

@A-Non-Mouse
The Marvel films may be iconic, but it doesn't give us the right to talk about them on every blog post.
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
I can give a more articulate argument then the majority of adults. If someone has a problem with what I say, then argue the points, not the presenter. 
Just because you are 18+ does not automatically a mature adult. 

@Kenosha Kid
Yeah I get what you are saying. But to be fair, me, mouse, and FCG pretty much run PI's comment section. And the majority of what we say is usually constructive and polite. I don't think too many parents have much of a problem with what we say.
And I do think that PL sometimes ignores that fact that not just parents use their site in determining what is and is not appropriate to watch. I'm nearly 18 myself, and I use this site for me personally.


Anonymous 6 months ago
I agree with Karl The Klown. He wants a mature conversation, well if we can argue our points well enough and under 18, why does that mean we're immature? And if they want what they call "mature conversations" then jump in on the conversation! Karl is right, FCG, Him and I basically run the comment section (now if we had He Who Must Not Be Named back then the parents/adults would be coming out in droves).

And I also use the site for me personally. Just because it's meant for parents doesn't mean we can use it to make our own choices either. 

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
@A-Non-Mouse, I think your suggestion of a PI sub-site geared toward teens is wonderful! I hope PI considers it.

Have a great day, everyone.

-- The Kenosha Kid
Anonymous 6 months ago
I think if they do it, they don't need to be light on what the bad content is, but should still be up front about what kind of sin is in it, but then it still might be toned down a little bit.

I hope PI considers it, but I doubt it will happen.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
charitysplace 6 months ago
You cannot tell me entertainment doesn't shape and influence young minds. I can look back into my own childhood and see where certain belief systems and attitudes came directly from watching Disney movies as a child. What you read / watch / consume from a young age teaches you.

Plugged In may "harp" on this particular show a lot, but it's because it's having an impact, it's constantly being talked about elsewhere, and they are correct in that entertainment impacts families. This is Focus on the Family's website, after all. I feel like people sometimes forget that.
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
No one here has denied that media has an effect of people. All we are saying is that PI has already addressed this exact same issue with this show multiple times. Now I will grant you that it is a important topic. But nevertheless, it seemed to boarder on redundancy at times.But Adam Holz gave a explanation as to why they decided to address this again, and I concede that it was probably warranted.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Personally, I don't understand why as Christians there is any reason to watch 13 Reasons Why. The whole show is centered around a girl's suicide. That is part of the main plot. It's almost like going and watching the recent movie about the highschooler becoming gay (I think it was Love Simon or something like that). Other shows with content that are bad have good themes like good vs. evil or the plot is really set up. 13 Reasons Why is about a girl's suicide, why would you watch it?

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I once heard on the radio from a mom that she watched the show with her teenaged daughter, and they saw the show less about how it glorified suicide and more about how treating others can cause them to commit suicide. From what I've heard about the show, the girl commits suicide due to constant bullying and then explains via recordings why she killed herself.
Jessica 6 months ago
Thanks for your interest in our ministry. We would like to encourage you to check out an article at our Focus on the Family Parenting page called "13 Reasons Why Not: (https://bit.ly/2jREYEg) for more information about this show. Blessings!
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
@pluggedin_team

Maybe you guys could explain why you dedicate so much time to 2 subjects (make that 3 with super-hero movies) 
Now I understand that, given you guy's mission, and the fact that Social Media and depression have a clear connection, why you would focus on them. But, it seems almost exclusive, and like FCG said, it can be a little redundant at times.
Keep up the good work!
Anonymous 6 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I think it's because they want to help families and how parents can help combat some of the tough things that teens go through in everyday life. They throw in superheroes because it's probably what kids and teens love most these days. (if PI existed in the Old West rage of movies, they'd probably be writing about cowboys and sheriffs)
Anonymous 6 months ago
Lol.  @Karl The Klown I think you and I may not care enough about 13 Reasons Why or Social Media to understand why. But you have to consider, this is a blog meant for parents, which I definately am not.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Ann 6 months ago
Thanks, everyone, for your comments, and for the opportunity for us to weigh in. Here are some thoughts from Adam Holz, who heads our editorial team: As you've pointed out, we've obviously covered this subject before. We chose to blog about it again not because we want to beat a dead horse, but because the research here indicates that there may be a correlation between the show and teens committing suicide. Before, the evidence suggesting that was pretty anecdotal. Bud actual research noting this correlation puts this story in another category. One of the things we do at Plugged In is to pay attention to scientific research that indicates these sorts of connections and possible correlations between entertainment and the real world. And new research potentially linking a show to children taking their own lives is a big deal, even if we've reported on it before. For those reasons, we chose to devote a blog to this subject. Thanks for your comments here. Adam Holz Interim Director Plugged In
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
Thank you for your response 
Anonymous 6 months ago
Thanks for the response

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
Ok. Before I read the post or any of the comments let me say that I was gone for 4 hours and I feel like the whole website was changed and updated, just saying.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
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Anonymous 6 months ago
This is pretty sad. We argue our case well and right. Yet you continue to call us dumb and say we aren't mature. Prove us wrong, but right now we are acting a lot more mature than you are.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
Hahaha! Exactly Mouse
[removed] 6 months ago
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Anonymous 6 months ago
I just about died at this Ron Swanson. Also, how did you and David get your profile pics and names?

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Karl The Klown 6 months ago
We signed in using a Gmail account. Just make an alt account, then find an image online, save said image in a file, then go into the settings of your Gmail account and insert the saved photo. 
Big Mike 6 months ago
and that last time I talked to these "mature" adults they argued for Micheal Jackson!!
fka Duke of Popcorn
Anonymous 6 months ago
Haha yep.

 @Karl The Klown  Thx.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
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Anonymous 6 months ago
That's not very nice wording... Karl, I think that this is the same guy who can't spell Spider-Man and posts spoiler for Avengers.

So don't listen to him. Freedom of Speech says your opinion sort of matters. Well, actually it doesn't but you can make it known.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I wonder why Plugged In is writing about this topic and this show for like, the third time?
[removed] 6 months ago
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Karl The Klown 6 months ago
He never said he was against it being discussed.
FCG has a point. PI seems to focus on two subjects:

1. Social media effects on teens
2. Mental health and depression among teens

 Now, both are worthy subjects to be talked about, but when you dedicate nearly every other post to one (or both) of the aforementioned subjects, then it starts to seem repetitive. And especially for someone such as myself who is neither on social media nor has mental health issues
Anonymous 6 months ago
I agree with Karl the Klown. And also, anonymous that commented first after Karl the Klown, just saying, you are on social media as well, and I wouldn't consider PI to be social media. Social media is generally you being online with your real life friends doing something, i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. 

Posted By A-Non-Mouse
Anonymous 6 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I have no problem with Plugged In writing about 13 Reasons Why or social media or whatever. They should be allowed to write about whatever they want, be it social media, superheroes, the MeToo movement, or in this case 13 Reasons Why.

My problem is that they've approached the subject of 13 Reasons Why multiple times already by using the angle of the correlation of increased suicide rates. A few examples:

https://pluggedin.focusonthefamily.com/culture-clips-13-reasons-really-dangerous-science-says/
https://pluggedin.focusonthefamily.com/13-reasons-provides-a-teachable-moment-for-netflix/
https://pluggedin.focusonthefamily.com/can-13-reasons-why-be-tragically-influential-a-grieving-mom-says-yes-and-why/

Again, I have no problem with Plugged In wanting to write about 13 Reasons Why, but the way in which they keep writing it just feels redundant. It would be more interesting if Plugged In wrote about 13RW in a different way, like (hypothetically speaking) "What Parents Can Learn From 13RW." (they did something similar with Game of Thrones once)
Anonymous 6 months ago
@FCG I have no idea. I feel like 13 Reasons Why is talked a lot about on PI.

Posted By A-Non-Mouse