Brainstorm Health: 13 Reasons Why and Suicide, Philip Morris Device, Medicare for All Hearing


Sy Mukherjee

May 1, 2019

Good afternoon, readers.

Netflix’s teen drama series 13 Reasons Why drew a fair amount of controversy from critics alleging it romanticized/normalized/otherwise simplified issues of self-harm and suicide. For those who don’t know about the series: It centers on the mystery of why a high school student killed herself, presented via a series of recordings left to her classmates.

The show’s creators and Netflix itself objected to the negative characterization. In fact, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings went so far as to say that, “No one has to watch it” in responding to the controversy (a reaction that didn’t sit well with groups like the Parents Television Council).

Now, Netflix is taking a more cautious tact in the wake of new research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry that finds a spike in suicides, relative to what would normally be expected, among teens aged 10 to 17 in the nine months after 13 Reasons Why‘s release.

Ok, this is the part where it’s critical to emphasize: Correlation does not equal causation. These sorts of studies can be ambiguous since there are many, many confounding factors that influence behavior, especially when they involve mental health issues.

But the observed uptick was enough to elicit a response (and a defense) from Netflix. “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 company spokesperson told Gizmodo. “This is a critically important topic and we have worked hard to ensure that we handle this sensitive issue responsibly.”

The relationship between popular culture and mental health has long been debated, whether the arguments center on violent media’s influence on young minds or a host of other issues. In an era of “Peak Content,” the issue may increasingly prop up.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


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