Art, Public Health, and the Depiction of Suicide - A Reading the Mind Discussion


13/2017 – Reading the Mind Update

Reading the Mind Book (& Film) Group kicked off last night with a discussion of the Netflix Original series “13 Reasons Why” at Dr. Meg Chisolm’s home over Indian food and wine. A dozen residents and medical students were joined by Dr. Paul Nestadt (Phipps ‘15), a Bloomberg School of Public Health Psychiatric Epidemiology fellow focused on suicide research and Dr. Doug D’Agati (Phipps ‘17), an Alexander Wilson Schweizer Fellow.

After introductions and socializing, discussion turned to the media’s portrayal of depression and suicide, the power of storytelling when suicide is presented as a “win”, how research can be done to investigate the impact of this sort of media, and how we, as psychiatrists, evaluate and respond. We discussed how the overarching “vengeance plot” allows Hannah, the protagonist of 13RW, to control the narrative long after her death in order to avenge wrongs with her fellow students. That vengeance story sends a dangerous message to teenagers about the power and attention that suicide can bring and how, in 13RW, suicide may have been the “right” decision. We discussed the counter story, that of The Magic Flute, an opera about how Papageno, having lost Papagena, resigns to hang himself but is stopped by spirits and, ultimately, reunited with his love.

We finished off the evening with peach cobbler and a brief review of some of the research literature that has covers these topics. Dr. Nestadt brought and suggested a few articles:

Maddy Gould’s (et al), 2003: Media Contagion and Suicide Among the Young: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/hs/medical/bioethics/nyspi/material/MediaContagionAndSuicide.pdf

Ayer’s: Internet Searches for Suicide Following the Release of 13 Reasons Why: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2646773

And, out of Germany: The Werther effect (***pointed out by residents that Werther’s book appeared in two scenes of 13 Reasons Why): https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S0033291700008345

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