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13-reasons-why-cast

The cast of the Netflix TV series "13 Reasons Why." (Photo by Nicole Alexander/CC BY 3.0)

Netflix TV series “13 Reasons Why” generated controversy upon its March 2017 release, as its first season featured a graphic scene that portrayed a teenage girl’s suicide. A new Annenberg Public Policy Center study found watching the show for its entire second season may actually decrease suicide risk in some viewers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported

The study was published on April 25 in Social Science and Medicine, and Annenberg Public Policy Center Research Director Dan Romer served as its senior author. As part of the study, the research team recruited 729 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 to complete a survey on mental health a month before and after the second season of the show was released in May 2018. The results confirmed concerns that watching the first part of the season increased suicide risk but found watching the entire second season decreased suicide risk to a level lower than that of people who did not watch at all. 

A press release from the Annenberg Public Policy Center reported that the first part of the second season could be particularly upsetting to viewers, and those who stopped watching after that point reported less optimism about the future and greater risk for future suicide. In contrast, those who watched the entire season were less likely to report self-harm and thoughts of suicide and more likely to express interest in reaching out to someone struggling with suicidal thoughts. 

“One explanation for the beneficial finding is that those at higher risk who persisted to the end were able to empathize with the challenges faced by the main characters and to take away a life-affirming lesson applied to their own lives,” Romer told Annenberg Public Policy Center. 

While Netflix added a trigger warning in the second season warning viewers that the show might be difficult for people with suicidal thoughts, Romer said this actually led more people to watch the show. 

“You can make a trigger warning that warns people, but it also promotes your show,” Romer told  the Inquirer. “Overall it seems to have increased awareness of the series.”

Researchers said the results suggest "13 Reasons Why" has varying effects on mental health. 

“These shows are complicated, and the effects they have on people are different for different people,” Romer told the Inquirer. “That’s why it’s very hard to predict or give advice about who should or shouldn’t watch something like this."

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the study found watching both seasons of "13 Reasons Why" may decrease suicide risk, while in fact the study found watching the full second season may decrease suicide risk in some viewers. The DP regrets this error. 

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