’13 Reasons Why’ has sparked attention for its openness about teen suicide. Angeli Kakade (@angelikakade) has the story.

Banner Health is urging parents to be on alert after seeing a spike in teenage patients who reported having suicidal thoughts, and the health provider says the controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” may be a factor.

The series, based on a 2007 young adult novel and released last month, chronicles 13 reasons why a fictional high school student killed herself. 

The increase in adolescent suicide risk was observed at three Banner Health facilities in the Valley, the medical group said Thursday.

Banner spokesman Jeff Nelson said its Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale had a record high of 25 teens treated in its emergency room Tuesday. Of those, about 17 or 18 stated they had thoughts of suicide during an assessment in the emergency department, he said. 

“Most of them when assessed referenced the Netflix show ’13 Reasons Why’ as the reason why they were having these thoughts,” Banner spokesman David Lozano said in an email.  

Other locations were Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa and the Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale.

It remained unclear how many teens in all had reported seeing the show, Nelson said. 

Typically, the Thunderbird location treats about eight adolescent patients demonstrating the symptoms at a given time, Nelson said.

The 13-episode series, released March 31, is based on the novel of the same name by Jay Asher. The narrative hinges on seven audio cassettes left behind by the student in explaining her motives. 

Dr. Goshawn Chawla, a psychiatrist with the Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, said no data exists to indicate the series directly causes teens to contemplate suicide. But during adolescence, teens are looking to self-identify and may relate to the feelings of a show’s character and be influenced by the actions the character takes to problem solve.

Chawla said if the series creators’ intention was to create meaningful conversation around a serious topic, “they failed.”

“I’ve read that the show was for parents and teens to watch together,” he said. “But that’s not always happening.”

He recommended parents or caregivers first watch the show, or some episodes, and then decide whether the show is appropriate for younger viewers.

According to the American Association of Suicidology’s website, 1,276 Arizonans killed themselves in 2015. The state is ranked 13th in the country for suicide deaths per capita, the organization reported.

Warning signs of teen suicide

  • Lack of concentration
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep changes, sleeping too little or too much 
  • Lack of energy
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities 
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Talking about suicide
  • Irritability 
  • A decrease in self-esteem and confidence
  • Withdrawal from school, family and friends

Source: Dr. Goshawn Chawla/DSM–V


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