Do TV Programs Like ‘13 Reasons Why’ Impact Suicide Awareness?


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Sept. 10, 2017, was World Suicide Prevention Day and marked the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week. During this annual campaign, state officials and healthcare professionals educate the public about suicide warning signs and prevention in an effort to bring suicide rates down. Another primary focus of the campaign is to lessen the stigma associated with suicide and discussing the topic in general. It also educates the public on the various mental health support and assistance services available to those at risk of attempting suicide or who have already done so. Additionally, the campaign features depression screening, including test conducted by healthcare organizations and online and self-administered tests.

Are Suicide Rates Increasing?

The short answer is yes, they’re increasing. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have been steadily increasing since 2000. Before that, they were actually declining. Between 1999 and 2015, an estimated 600,000 residents in the United States committed suicide, and the rates are particularly high among Native Americans and Caucasians in rural areas.

Do TV Programs Like ‘13 Reasons Why’ Impact Suicide Awareness?

Pop culture has always had some sort of impact on societal trends, and the same can be said for suicide. Recently, Netflix released an original series based on a young adult novel published in 2007 by Jay Asher. The story follows the life of a high school student as she falls into a deep depression due to bullying and betrayal. Eventually, she commits suicide and leaves behind an audio diary with 13 reasons why she decided to take her life.

Due to its subject matter, the series stirred up a good deal of controversy. Supporters enjoyed the fact that the series raised awareness about youth suicide and shined a spotlight on how to identify early warning signs. However, on the other side of the aisle, mental health professionals were worried about how the show’s graphic depiction of suicide might impact youth struggling with their own mental health issues.

How did the public react to the show, though? Well, immediately following the premiere, online searches about topics like suicide prevention and awareness soared, as did search phrases like “how to commit suicide.” The search results prompted a San Diego State University research professor, John Ayers, to look into the controversy. He eventually published a paper in the JAMA Internal Medicine that confirmed mental health professionals’ worst fears. Although the Netflix show was indeed raising awareness about suicide prevention, more people seemed interested in researching ways to kill themselves.

Know the warning signs. Visit page 2 for more info.

Common Warnings Signs of Suicide

When it comes to identifying warnings signs of suicide, there are a number of red flags to look for. To help you remember some of the more common signs, the American Association of Suicidology put together the mnemonic, IS PATH WARM?:

I          Ideation

S          Substance Abuse


P          Purposelessness

A         Anxiety

T          Trapped

H         Hopelessness


W        Withdrawal

A         Anger

R         Recklessness

M         Mood Changes


In addition to the above signs, individuals at acute risk of attempting or committing suicide may also exhibit the following behavior:

  • Threatening or talking about self-harm or communicating the desire to kill her or himself
  • Writing or talking about death or suicide
  • Increased substance use
  • Feeling of hopelessness, no sense of purpose
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling trapped
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Uncontrolled anger, fits of rage
  • Partaking in risky behavior
  • Mood changes

Fortunately, there is help for those who need it. Mental health professionals are available across the country, and you can get a referral by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255). What do you think? Is your office participating in National Suicide Prevention Week?

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