Editorials

Suicide on TV: minimising the risk to vulnerable viewers

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j3876 (Published 22 August 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3876
  1. Florian Arendt, postdoctoral researcher1,
  2. Sebastian Scherr, postdoctoral researcher1,
  3. Benedikt Till, assistant professsor2,
  4. Yvonne Prinzellner, PhD candidate3,
  5. Kevin Hines, filmmaker4,
  6. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, associate professor and head of research unit2
  1. 1Department of Communication Science and Media Research, University of Munich, Munich, Germany
  2. 2Suicide Research Unit, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Centre for Public Health, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  3. 3Institute of Media and Communication Science, Ilmenau University of Technology, Ilmenau, Germany
  4. 47th & Montgomery Productions, Georgia, USA
  1. Corresponding author: thomas.niederkrotenthaler{at}meduniwien.ac.at

International media guidance should be strengthened, implemented, and enforced

On 31 March Netflix released its series 13 Reasons Why,1 portraying the fictional death of 17 year old Hannah Baker, who records her story on tapes before her suicide. Each of the 13 episodes explores a reason for her suicide, emphasising Hannah’s social environment as a causal factor. The series was dubbed into French, German, Italian, and Spanish, and concludes with the protagonist’s explicit, graphic suicide. The series was widely viewed—there were over 11 million related tweets within three weeks of release.2

The programme sparked immediate criticism from mental health organisations. In particular, the depiction of Hannah’s death was deemed to violate media guidelines for suicide reporting,3 and concerns were raised that the series could trigger self harm among vulnerable viewers by romanticising suicide and portraying it as the only option to cope with negative experiences.45 Organisations including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention6 and Suicide Awareness and Voices of Education7 provided resources to help parents, schools, and community leaders discuss the series with adolescents.

News media, including the New York Times, reported anecdotal evidence that the series triggered “imitative” behaviours …

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