Why Thirteen Reasons Why may elicit suicidal ideation in some viewers, but help others.


Department of Sociology and Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago, 1126 E. 59th St., Chicago, IL, 60637, USA. Electronic address: [Email]


When the popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (13RW) debuted, scholars were quick to raise concerns that the show may encourage suicide as an option, particularly for vulnerable audience members; nonetheless, others pushed back, noting that the evidence used to draw a link between exposure to media and actual suicide risk suffers from methodological weaknesses and that censoring mental health topics may do more harm than good. The problem highlighted by the debate is that researchers generally lack the kinds of studies that would truly help us understand if a show like 13RW is problematic, and if it is, which specific storylines carry risk. Indeed, this general lack of the empirical evidence is precisely why the study by Arendt and his colleagues (2019) in this issue makes such an important contribution to the literature. With this commentary, I (1) review what we know and what we don't about the media, 13RW, and suicide, (2) discuss Arendt et al.'s unique insights, and (3) outline an agenda for future research that will allow us to better answer how, when, and for whom exposure to media stories like 13RW harms - or helps - youth.