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Censorship of suicide scenes in entertainment media may do more harm than good

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WVU's Elizabeth Cohen is available to talk about suicides portrayed in entertainment media and the effect of censoring those portrayals.

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Censoring teen suicides in entertainment media like “13 Reasons Why” may do more harm than good, according to West Virginia University’s Elizabeth Cohen, an associate professor of communication studies. Cohen says the well-publicized study that linked the show to a subsequent suicide contagion was flawed and a “poor piece of evidence” that the show caused young adults to take their own lives. 

Elizabeth Cohen audio file: “By censoring issues like suicide…”

By censoring issues like suicide in entertainment media geared toward young adults, producers could actually be passing up valuable opportunities to use media for education, maybe even suicide prevention. Entertainment media is a useful vehicle for conveying educational messages and giving audiences the opportunity to explore gritty and complex emotional issues in safe, fictional spaces. Indeed, one study on 13 Reasons Why indicates that the show was successful suicide awareness tool. A survey found that the show facilitated conversations between parents and teens about a number of difficult topics including suicide. The majority of young-adult respondents also reported having a better understanding of suicide and being more motivated to help someone in crisis.” — Elizabeth Cohen, associate professor of communication studies 

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CONTACT: Elizabeth Cohen
Associate Professor, Communication Studies
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

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