The impact of media on a teens’ mental health has always been a subject of discussion. Media exposure includes exposure and access to television, music, video games, print media, and the internet. Amongst all of them, the audio-video (AV) medium has the highest level of influence. In the past, the most discussed aspect was both the positive and negative impacts of television. TV played a pivotal role in a teen’s overall development and various studies have been conducted to investigate its impact on teen mental health.
Then came the internet boom and along with it came social media. While some studies have shown that social media is beneficial for teens, past studies have concluded that it adversely affects the mental health of teens and heightens the risk of them developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
The latest threat – web series
Apart from spending time on various social media platforms available on the internet, the latest trend in the virtual world is that of watching web series. These are basically a series of audio-video productions divided into a number of seasons each comprising of a few episodes. One such worrisome series is Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, which was first aired in March 2017. The content on this series deals with teen issues like school bullying, cyberbullying, underage drinking, school violence, guns in the home, shootings, sexual harassment, and teen suicides.
Due to the lack of censorship and proper regulations, disturbing content is shown explicitly in the series. This has raised controversial concerns amongst fans of the series and mental health workers dealing with teen mental health. While the fans insist that the series unfolds the much-needed insights on teen suicide, mental health workers warn that since the series is fictional, it can cause teens to become way too emotional and impulsive. The teens can be triggered into committing suicide after watching the protagonist do the same.
Statistics prove increase in suicide rates
After watching the promos and a few episodes of the series, Lisa Horowitz, MD, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) said she literally felt nauseated looking at the gory details shown in the show. She was also worried about the show’s popularity especially amongst teen girls. Her concerns were justified after she and her team found out that according to the data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a 29 percent rise in suicides by teens aged between 10 to 17 years in April 2017. This was just a month after the show was aired.
In another study on teen suicides, Dan Rome, psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, adopted a different approach. He and his team focused on the emotional and mental health of the viewers and how they felt while watching such shows. He surveyed a group of teenagers and young adults aged between 18 to 29 years who watched the first and the second seasons of the show. According to his findings, majority of the respondents who watched only a few episodes of the second season were at a risk of suicide. Interestingly, those who completed the whole season had a lower risk of suicide.
However, these researches cannot confirm that the show is the main cause for the increase in suicide rates amongst teens. Suicides are rarely due to one single reason and are usually a result of an amalgamation of a number of stresses. According to Patricia Ortiz, a psychiatrist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. though studies have shown a consistent result regarding the influence of the show on teen mental health, it could not be proved that there was a direct correlation between the show and those who committed suicides.
After repeated criticism from mental health workers, Netflix started adding a message from the cast at the beginning of each season. Episodes were accompanied by warnings of violence and disturbing graphics. Recently, a spokesperson from Netflix said that the network was aware of studies relating the show to teen suicides and also of those challenging such studies. They claimed that the network recognized suicide as a critical and sensitive issue and was willing to help in any manner.
This issue highlights how strongly media influences teen mental health. Mental health professionals from time to time have urged all forms of media and professionals from the media field to show restraint while discussing, writing, or telecasting sensitive issues. Issues like teen suicides, sexual assaults, and the use of intoxicants by teens have to be handled delicately before showing or writing about them.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death among people aged between 10 to 34. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 0.6 percent or 1.4 million people aged 18 years or older made a non-fatal suicide attempt. The best way to help someone with suicidal tendency is by talking to them and instituting an intervention with the help of a mental health counselor at the earliest.
If you know a teen battling a mental health disorder and looking for a teen mental health clinic, get in touch with the Adeona Healthcare. We are a renowned mental health care provider for adolescents aged between 12 to 17 and offer evidence-based treatment approaches for social media addiction and other mental health disorders in teens.
To know more about our teen mental health center and how we can help your teen achieve recovery and live the happy life they deserve, call our 24/7 helpline 888-997-3966 and speak to a representative. You can also chat online with a representative for further mental health help.