Could the Fictional Suicide in ‘13 Reasons Why’ Inspire Real-Life Copycats?

Source: IMDb

It’s the latest title on everyone’s binge list. Yet, while Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” has captured the imagination of countless viewers since its March debut, the most tweeted about show in TV history may also be one of its most controversial.

Based on the young adult novel by Jay Asher, the series revolves around Hannah Baker’s suicide and the cassette tapes she leaves behind. As you might’ve guessed, each tape explains one reason that drove her to take such drastic action. Producers behind the series, including Selena Gomez, hoped the fictional suicide would spark conversations about the state of mental health amongst tweens and teens. But school officials across the country are now warning parents about the show in their attempt to prevent copycat suicides.

Jia Tolentino, contributing writer for The New Yorker, writes, “Rather than starting a valuable conversation that could help students who are struggling with mental-health issues, the show, these schools fear, might push students with issues over the edge.”

Many administrators believe “13 Reasons Why” could romanticize the idea of suicide among the younger set, and rightfully so. Known as the Werther Effect, researchers have seen spikes in copycat deaths in response to celebrity or fictional suicides throughout history. Vulnerable parties often derive inspiration from examples in the media when seeking justification for their own impulses—and that’s precisely what has adults worried right now.

Source: IMDb

“For kids who are vulnerable, who suffer from depression and anxiety, it can be a trigger for suicidal idealization and that is of course a concern,” Anne Moss Rogers, who lost her 20-year-old son to suicide two years ago, told WTVR. If mainstream depictions of suicidal acts become ingrained in the fabric of modern pop culture, these hypothetical concerns might very well become real-life epidemics.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, researchers noted a 50 percent increase in intentional exposures—the third most common form of suicide—by adolescents between 2012 and 2016. MarketWatch reports that, in 2016 alone, poison centers managed more than 76,500 cases of intentional exposures in young adults. Overall, incoming call volume to poison centers continues to decrease, but cases with more serious clinical outcomes, including death, have increased by 4.3 percent per year since 2000. Some centers, however, have seen an uptick in cases just since the show’s premiere.

Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System, told MarketWatch that these suspected suicide cases are particularly worrisome. “In our center alone, adolescent suicide and suicidal intent cases for the month of April were the highest we have observed in the past two years. Many of the more recent calls have referenced popular television shows that include messages of suicide, sometimes glamorizing suicide or inspiring deadly copycat behavior.”

Source: IMDb

One group of teens, however, has made it their mission to counteract the potentially detrimental undertones of “13 Reasons Why” by creating their own mental health awareness campaign. The “13 Reasons Why Not” project aims to provide students of Oxford High School in Michigan with an outlet for their emotions so they can work through their struggles without resorting to self-harm.

Launched in honor of Megan Abbott, a former student who committed suicide in 2013, the group surprised their classmates with audio recordings broadcast over the school’s loudspeaker system. Not only did these students share their experiences with bullying, body shaming, and abuse, but they also added how the support they received saved them from the brink. It’s with this element of hope that the group aims to inspire those in need to seek the help they require.

Riley Juntti, one of the program’s leading organizers, has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for years, so this project holds special meaning, as she’s an advocate for suicide prevention. “I know this project was extremely emotionally painful for a lot of the participants to go through,” she wrote via Twitter. “I just hope someone took the meaning out of it that life is always worth living, there [are] people who love you, and your value is not tarnished by others perceptions.”

Source: IMDb

While “13 Reasons Why” has certainly cleared the path for honest discussions about mental health, entertainment outlets must also acknowledge the negative impact this runaway hit may have on its target market. As Patrick Devitt writes for Scientific American, “…the message that suicide can have simple, or a simple set, of causes, or that suicide represents some type of solution, is unfortunate. There is never one reason why, or even thirteen.”

Suicide awareness, in general, stands as another major issue, for global suicide rates have skyrocketed since the Great Recession. Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, while many more attempt to take their own lives. Subsequently, millions of people are affected by or experience suicide bereavement every year, according to the World Health Organization.

Just as children now have easy access to Netflix and the news, we must also guarantee that they know where to find the resources they’ll need when life becomes overwhelming if we are to truly make an impact and save young lives.

If you or someone you know shows signs of suicidal thoughts or tendencies, you’re not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifelineat 1 (800) 273-8255 or message the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 for access to crisis and support services. Suicide isn’t your only option. Please seek help before deciding to end your own life.

****

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Advertisements

Stop Using Social Media as the Scapegoat for Society’s Demise

During the early morning hours of May 7, Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to help fans in need. Over the course of this dialogue, Minaj agreed to pay out an estimated $30,000 of her own money to help the fans in question afford their college tuition and school supplies. While many critics might be skeptical about the motive behind her random acts of philanthropy, it’s hard to ignore that Minaj’s generous soul would never have connected with these struggling individuals had it not been for social media.

Of course, it’s easy for people to focus on social media’s failings. It promotes narcissism. It’s an unyielding distraction. It hinders everyone’s attention span. However, along with the bad, we’ve been exposed to a world of good that outweighs any negative sentiment. We now have an outlet for connecting with people outside our immediate circle, allowing us to learn and grow in ways we never could have before its creation.

Thanks to Twitter (and the Web, in general), we have the opportunity to remain abreast of international news in real time. Yes, there’s an enormous amount of content to sift through at any given moment, but by adopting healthy social media habits, it’s simple to filter through what’s important and what’s frivolous fluff. You see, those who claim that social networks drain people’s time and ruin kids’ attention spans are those who’ve failed to master healthy social habits themselves. All good things must be consumed in moderation—even media. We may live in the era of the Netflix binge, but that doesn’t mean such behaviors are smart. When used properly, social media arms us with the tools necessary to dismantle widespread ignorance and hold public figures accountable. Social media acts as the weapon we need to effectively fight for what’s right.

Following the U.S. presidential election, for instance, voters quickly took to social media—in some cases to celebrate, in some cases to express their disbelief and anguish while establishing the foundation for what’s now known as The Resistance. Women came together via social to plan and execute the Women’s March on Washington, as well as its sister marches across the world. And organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, have turned to social media to mobilize supporters and bolster donations. Without such outlets, these groups never would’ve come together so quickly and effectively. Without social media, it would’ve been much more difficult for these like-minded activists to find one another and turn their mutual disgust into productive outreach.

Even in less extreme cases, social media has the potential to make people feel less alone. Prior to social networks, outcasts likely felt that there was no one else in the world who understood their struggle. But, by being able to express their emotions online, many have found support they might’ve otherwise gone without. Those with minor grievances can also take solace in social media, for the memes and comics that rule the space demonstrate we’re not as alone as we once thought. (No, you’re NOT the only one who feels that way!) Critics will argue that social media has the opposite effect, as Facebook and Instagram posts often make said outcasts feel even more out of the loop than before, but when you stop to evaluate the new connections at their fingertips, it’s easy to see that social empowers them to change their situation for the better.

Face it—bullies will never cease to exist. There’ll always be people who tear others down in order to make themselves feel superior, no matter their platform of choice. But it’s our responsibility to teach today’s children how to navigate these new networks. Our parents taught us how to handle the challenges that came along with growing up, and we’ll have to do the same. Kids still have to face the same battles, even if they’re fighting on uncharted battlefields. Remember! We’re the ones who created this supposed mess, so we’re the ones who will have to right the course. We will have to teach them how to limit their screen time. We will have to teach them how to be mindful of others online. We will have to teach them not to idolize the manipulated images and personas they see across platforms.

Parents and authority figures who believe social media has ruined today’s youth are merely projecting their own insecurities, for they exhibit these less than stellar behaviors themselves. They’re guilty of deifying the celebrities they follow, and checking their phones excessively. They’ve become addicted to refreshing their feeds and awaiting new notifications. Yet, each time another adult gives their child an iPad or smartphone as a stand-in for an actual caretaker, they perpetuate the very problem they wish to rectify. Unless we take responsibility for how we conduct ourselves, we will never be able to alter the issue at hand.

Until then, critics will continue to focus on social media’s failings and blame these networks for what’s wrong with the world. Social media isn’t without its flaws, of course, but we mustn’t overlook the value it brings to the modern world. As with any tool, social can be used for good or evil. Let’s remember what social media can help us accomplish—as was the case with Nicki Minaj—before we vilify these networks once and for all.

****

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)