Suicides in young people in Ontario after the release of “13 Reasons Why”

What you need to know

Research in the United States shows that media portrayals of suicide are linked to an increase in suicidal behaviours. The Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, became controversial because it portrayed a teenage suicide that led to an increase in suicide-related searches on Google in the United States. This led Ontario researchers to conduct the first study outside of the US to look at suicide rates after the release of the show. They found an 18% increase in suicide rates in Ontario during the nine months after the release of the show.

 

This Research Snapshot looks at the article, "Suicides in Young People in Ontario Following the Release of “13 Reasons Why” which was published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in 2020. Read it below or download the PDF.

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What is this research about? 

The term “the Werther effect,” also known as copycat suicide, is a term used to describe an increase in suicides after media portrayals of suicide. Such increases have been seen in the United States after highly publicized suicide cases, such as the death of actor Robin Williams. 

Two recent studies in the US showed that there was also an increase in suicides after the release of the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. Ontario researchers replicated this study to see if this relationship exists in Ontario.

What did the researchers do? 

The researchers focused on deaths by suicide in people up to 29 years of age reported by the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario in the nine months after the release of the show. They compared this number to the number of suicides predicted based on the number of suicides that happened in this age group from January 2013 until the show’s launch.

What did the researchers find? 

There were 264 suicides in Ontario in this age group in the three months after the show started compared to the predicted number of 224, an 18% increase.

The researchers identified the following trends:

More suicides in youth aged 10–19 and 20–29 after the show started compared to the previous year.
A 24% increase in suicides in males and 23% increase in females across both age groups. 
One percent of suicides were due to cutting, which was a method shown on the show .

Limitations of the research 

The researchers note that their findings should be considered with caution because the increase in suicide rates might not have been due to the release of the show (the researchers did not know how many of the people who died by suicide had watched the show). Also, the researchers looked at suicides in only one Canadian province, did not consider population growth, or how suicide was classified by the Chief and Coroner’s Office. In addition, the study design did not allow the researchers to predict the show’s long-term impact on suicide rates.

How can you use this research? 

This research illustrates the need for entertainment providers to follow responsible media recommendations for portrayals of suicide. They should also seek guidance from experts early in the development process, to help incorporate safer presentations and suicide prevention approaches within their content.

About the researchers

Mark Sinyor,1,2 Marissa Williams,1 Ulrich S. Tran,3 Ayal Schaffer,1,2 Paul Kurdyak,2,4,5,6 Jane Pirkis,7 and Thomas Niederkrotenthaler8 

  1. Department of Psychiatry, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario.
  2. Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario.
  3. Department of Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods, School of Psychology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
  4. Health Systems Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario.
  5. Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Toronto, Ontario.
  6. Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario.
  7. Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.
  8. Unit Suicide Research & Mental Health Promotion, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Center for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.

Keywords  

suicide, contagion, Werther effect, youth, 13 Reasons Why

 

This Research Snapshot is based on the article, “Suicides in Young People in Ontario Following the Release of “13 Reasons Why” which was published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in 2020. https://doi.org/10.1177/0706743719870507. This summary was written by Rupinder Chera.