Debate Outline

2 minute Opening Statement by first group.

Hook: Story of 13 reasons why (or Other) suicide Victim

**Megan story** (?)

Relevancy statement: We consume x amount of media every day– don’t let it impact you (or something similar).

Credibility: we will be citing x studies by *smart people*

Central Idea: Media doesn’t correctly inform on suicide

Preview of main points:  

Traditional media

13 Reasons why

Social Media


*Picture of Megan* This is my friend Megan. We have known each other since 6th grade. She’s a really good photographer and if you look through all our yearbooks, her name is on every page.

She was quiet, but always had a camera in hand, ready to capture the perfect moment for the yearbook committee.

Megan was my senior econ partner and, quiet as she was, her ideas won all our competitions, like a 24-hour drive thru pet shop.

Megan is a little different than you and me. Instead of walking across that stage in May 2013, she died by suicide a week before we threw our caps in the air.

Megan’s death was not publicized in the media. The only reason we know about her death is from an announcement on the intercom the next day.

We do not believe the media correctly portrays suicide, even though it is one of the most prevalent issues in our society.

The author of the book, 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher, said, “The whole issue of suicide is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it happens, and so we have to talk about it. It’s dangerous not to talk about it because there’s always room for hope.”

Today we’ll be discussing suicide portrayal in traditional media, the popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, and on social media while citing statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, among others


5 Minute First Argument by first Group: Traditional Media

Hook: In the time that I will speak about traditional media’s effect on suicide rates, 12 people will commit suicide. Once every 38 seconds, according to an Emory college study.

If that number has any correlation to traditional media and their expression of suicide and it does, then we should stop at nothing to fully understand and eliminate this problem.

Story: Explain Werther Effect. In the 1700s, Gothe wrote a book called The Sorrows of a Young Werther.  In this novel, a fictional character commits suicide. After the publication of this book, imitation suicides spread through Europe. These were some of the first documented cases of “copycat suicides.” Public officials were outraged by this book and many countries banned The Sorrows of a Young Werther. The difference between now and then is not that suicide is fictionalized for a story, but that we allow this in our media without thought of the consequences it has on real people.

4-5 Facts:


After WW2 (1947-1968), The New York Times began reporting “National Post-War Suicides” each month. These can be used as a standard to measure if the reporting on a high-profile suicide has an effect on the masses and it shows that it does.

When Dan Burros. Leader of the KKK, took his own life in 1965, Suicide rates were 23% higher in the following month than in the control months of the year before and prior. Interestingly, this increase in suicides of 20-25% is the norm even now. END of THAT SOURCE

A study done by several doctors of psychiatry and graduate students from the North Central University of China. Studied the effect that one celebrity suicide and one “minor” suicide. Minor suicide meaning a local news coverage of a non-celebrity. This was their expert analysis.

“The media reporting of suicide was synchronized with increased suicide deaths during major suicide events such as celebrity death, and slightly lagged behind the suicide deaths for 1 month in other periods without notable celebrity deaths.”

“This study revealed that suicide deaths were associated with media reporting of both major and minor suicide events. The conventional perspective based on celebrity suicide research is not to excessively report celebrity suicide events. The present findings add that competitive. reporting of minor suicide events is also inappropriate and should be addressed by media professionals.” END of THAT SOURCE

The Canadian Psychiatric Association’s Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide note that “there is a significant evidence-base demonstrating that media reporting of suicides is linked to copycat suicides among youth and young adults under 24 years of age. The guidelines suggest things to avoid and convey when writing about suicide.


  • Details of the method
  • The word “suicide” in the headline
  • Photo(s) of the deceased
  • Admiration of the deceased
  • The idea that suicide is unexplainable
  • Repetitive or excessive coverage
  • Front page coverage
  • Exciting reporting
  • Romanticized reasons for the suicide
  • Simplistic reasons for the suicide
  • Approval of the suicide


  • Alternatives to suicide (i.e. treatment)
  • Community resource information for those with suicidal ideation
  • Examples of a positive outcome of a suicidal crisis (i.e. calling a suicide hotline)
  • Warning signs of suicidal behaviour
  • How to approach a suicidal person


“televised stories was 82% less likely to report a copycat effect than newspaper stories”

Dr. Chi-Un Pae, Korean Medical Science

Additionally, the awareness and interest of peoples’ perspectives and self-reports on suicidal ideation have drastically increased, in particular, in the management of their current mental health today. However, health professionals’ and community’s interaction and individual-level approach are not properly established.

5 Minute Second Argument/ Rebuttal by first group: 13 Reasons Why


4-5 Facts:

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix series based on a book published in 2007. It’s a story that follows 13 tapes left behind by a fictional teenager, Hannah Baker, who calls out 13 specific people as the reasons why she ended her life.

13 Reasons Why glorifies suicide. The show depicts substance abuse, rape, and, in the final episode, it shows Hannah Baker graphicly taking her life — in what could be seen as a how-to for a vulnerable audience.

According to NBC, the series has mental health experts saying it’s causing more harm than good in terms of suicide and self-harm.

Since the series’ premiere on March 31, the media has seen a significant spike in young suicides, some leaving suicide notes similar to Hannah Baker’s.

As with a case in Peru, according to Refinery 29, a 23 year old died by suicide within the last week, after leaving a list of reasons — people — for taking his life. This list contained tapes that this man had recorded to tell all these people what they did to cause him to take his life.

Another potential issue with the series is that the protagonist is still around to narrate it, which could undermine the finality of suicide.

Executive director for suicide awareness voices of Education, Dan Reidenberg said, “Young people are not that great at separating fiction from reality. That gets even harder to do when you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts.”

13 Reasons Why did not depict suicide correctly because it only dealt with the surface. It didn’t talk about any mental illness that Hannah might have struggled with, it didn’t talk about how Hannah wasn’t perfect. She did things that quite frankly prevented her counselor, Mr. Porter, from helping her. It didn’t include serious enough warning tags at the beginning of episodes that could have triggered someone struggling with suicidal thoughts or rape survivors.

“Sequences of terrible things happen to Hannah, and we don’t get a feel for her internalization until she kills herself,” Dr. Victor Schwartz, medical director of the JED Foundation, told NBC News. “None of that stuff is made clear because it’s focused on the horrible things people have done to her. The whole thing is an extended revenge fantasy.”

13 Reasons Why should not be considered a credible source for what suicide in teens, or anyone for that matter, looks like.


“The whole issue of suicide is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it happens, and so we have to talk about it. It’s dangerous not to talk about it because there’s always room for hope.” — Jay Asher, author, 13 Reasons Why; Beyond the Reasons

“It’s definitely a generational thing. Our whole world is our school and social media, so that’s why when you’re being cyberbullied, you’re being attacked by so many people who are hiding behind a computer screen.” — Alisha Boe, Jessica

“Cyber Bullying doesn’t end when the school bell rings.” — Dr. Rona Hu, psychiatrist Stanford University School of Medicine, 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons

“Once something is online, it’s just there — and a picture can say a million different things and people come up and conjure up their own story and what they think is right and it affects you — it hurts you,” Selena Gomez, executive producer

“Rape should be a topic that we should all be able to talk about and not feel ashamed.


(5 minute recess to discuss with group and collect rebuttal points.)

5 Minute 3rd Argument by second group: Social Media


4-5 Facts:

Experts have conducted studies to evaluate the first 10 websites that came up after they searched a series of suicide related searches.

Of the top 10 results, nearly half were pro-suicide chat rooms. These forums were basically created for people with harmful and suicidal thoughts to connect and collaborate.

As you can assume, these breed very dangerous results.

Members of these chat rooms often make suicide pacts between themselves, which are dangerous on their own, but these particular pacts are usually from strangers.

South Korea has the highest suicide rates in the world at roughly 24 per every 100,000 people, and evidence shows that cyber suicide pacts account for almost one third of suicides in the whole country.

While these forums may seem outdated, the issue has spread to Instagram and Twitter as well while teens and young adults use “secret hashtags” to connect with others who are considering suicide. These hashtags are connecting others who often pressure each other into suicide pacts.

Similarly, teens have begun using these platforms to glorify suicide, posting pictures of angels or other religious symbols to depict someone who died by suicide or other forms of self-harm.

“Young people who are already fragile and perhaps already have experience with self-harm could be massively stimulated by this sort of thing and encouraged to self-harm again. When self-harm is glorified or – as in this case – put into an almost religious context, so that it is evaluated positively, the risk is particularly high.” Frank Köhnlein, a youth psychiatrist at the University Clinic in Basel

Facebook memorials are an interesting thing. For some, they create a safe space to work out our feelings and connect with those who are also grieving.

But for most, they are dangerous. They’re dangerous because they actively allow those directly affected by the suicide to dwell — for years.

This is Megan’s memorial page. This page started out as a reprieve for most of us from the grief we felt from Megan’s death.

But after a while, it became clear that Megan’s mother would continue to dwell on the death, quite possibly forever.

Posts like this …. years later are evidence that, rather than using counseling and other methods to get past such a tragedy, this grieving mother has chosen to almost define herself and her life by one action — one minute — in one of her daughter’s lives.

I’m not a mother and I don’t know what it’s like, nor do I ever hope to feel the pain and hurt that comes when a child dies by suicide, but there are resources everywhere for those affected. There are counselors, centers, support groups. I don’t expect a mother to ever fully move past losing a child, but there are ways to feel more peace and acceptance.

Memorial pages are good for a time, but don’t build your entire existence around them. At the risk of sounding insensitive, grieve for a time, and then get the help everyone in that situation would need in order to be able to get past it and live your life.


The google search study: David D. Luxton, PhD, Jennifer D. June, BA, and Jonathan M. Fairall, BS evaluated the first 10 websites that came up after they searched a series of “suicide related” searches. Of the top 10 results, nearly half were pro-suicide “chat-rooms.” These chat-rooms or forums allow for people to connect and ideate together. Creating collaborative, but very dangerous results.

In these chatrooms, suicide pacts are often made between the members. “A primary characteristic that differentiates cyber-suicide pacts from traditional suicide pacts is that these pacts are usually formed among complete strangers.” In South Korea, where the suicide rate is highest (24 per 100,00 people), “evidence exists that cyber-suicide pacts may account for almost one third of suicides in that country.”

However, the use of forums seems to be something of the 2005 era and not a modern issue. The same idea exists in Twitter and Instagram where “secret hashtags” are used to connect with other people who are considering suicide. Through using these hashtags, teens and young adults are more likely to connect with people who also feel the same way often pressuring each other into suicide pacts, or the like.

Instagram and Twitter are aware of some of these hashtags and have disabled the accounts and hashtags responsible to contributing to their popularization. Instagram has stated “While Instagram is a place where people can share their lives with others through photographs and videos, any account found encouraging or urging users to embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or to cut, harm themselves, or commit suicide will result in a disabled account without warning. We believe that communication regarding these behaviors in order to create awareness, come together for support and to facilitate recovery is important, but that Instagram is not the place for active promotion or glorification of self-harm.” However, as critic Krystie Lee Yandoli states “Removing the content doesn’t remove the issue.”

As quickly as Instagram can disable content or accounts, others can pop up. It is a chase where the good guys will never catch up.

Glorifying Illness:

Similarly on Instagram, some teens use hashtags to identify, raise awareness, and glorify mental illness and suicide. The image of an angel, for example, can be used as a symbol for someone who died from self-induced anorexia or suicide.

“Young people who are already fragile and perhaps already have experience with self-harm could be massively stimulated by this sort of thing and encouraged to self-harm again. When self-harm is glorified or – as in this case – put into an almost religious context, so that it is evaluated positively, the risk is particularly high.” Frank Köhnlein, a youth psychiatrist at the University Clinic in Basel



These results also indicated that cyberbullying offenders were 1.5 times as likely to report having attempted suicide than children who were not offenders or victims of cyberbullying. Although cyberbullying cannot be identified as a sole predictor of suicide in adolescents and young adults, it can increase risk of suicide by amplifying feelings of isolation, instability, and hopelessness for those with preexisting emotional, psychological, or environmental stressors.

3 Minute Closing Statement by Second Group’

Reiterating facts that have already been discussed.

(3-5 facts from the debates: maybe a brief history of suicide affected by media-). Examples of bad reporting, media effects, etc. (Megan, 13 reasons why, …  

Flaws in others thinking: With media how it is now, we treat suicide as a number. But remember. These “numbers” are real people. Real people with mothers, fathers, brother and sisters. Neighbors, classmates and friends. If we continue in this path, we ignore the reality that suicide is one of the most prevalent issues in our society.

The media doesn’t correctly inform or portray about suicide. As communication majors, as future members of the media,  it is our responsibility to accurately portray suicide. Use your influence to change the way society views suicide.



Phillips, D. (1974). The Influence of Suggestion on Suicide: Substantive and Theoretical Implications of the Werther Effect. American Sociological Review, 39(3), 340-354. Retrieved from

Yang, A., Tsai, S., Yang, C., Shia, B., Fuh, J., Wang, S., & … Huang, N. (2013).

Suicide and media reporting: a longitudinal and spatial analysis.

Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 48(3), 427-435.

Canadian Psychiatric Association