Online searches related to suicide have jumped 19% in the three weeks after the controversial television series, “13 Reasons Why” debuted, according to research. This translates to roughly 900,000 to 1.5 million searches compared to before the show was created.
John W. Ayers of San Diego State University’s Graduate School of Public Health, said, “It is unclear whether any query preceded an actual suicide attempt.” He explained,
However, suicide search trends are correlated with actual suicides, media coverage of suicides concur with increased suicide attempts, and searches for precise suicide methods increased after the series’ release.
The show, based on the book of the same name by Jay Asher, tells of a troubled teenager named Hannah Baker who was bullied and assaulted. She then commits suicide, leaving behind audio tapes addressed to those she believes were to blame for her death so that the people can hear how their actions allegedly contributed to the tragedy.
Even before its premier, the show received varying reactions, Forbes reports. Many acknowledged that its premise could potentially open up important, neglected conversations on teen bullying, depression, teen suicide, sexual assault, and more.
But critics, including suicide prevention and mental health professionals, criticized the show for “glamorizing” suicide and portraying it as a solution to problems. This was heightened by the extremely graphic depiction of suicide in the show’s season finale. Research has shown that suicides can be “contagious” and that media portrayal visibly impacts that trend.
The researchers used Google Trends to compare internet searches for “suicide” in the 19 days following the show’s release versus the frequency of searches without the show. They tracked the trends from March 31 until April 18, stopping before American football player Aaron Hernandez committed suicide to ensure no searches were related to his death. They then looked at trends from January 15 to March 30.
Suicide-related searches rose from 15% to 44% higher than expected on 12 of the 19 days. An analysis revealed that 17 of the top 20 related search terms were also higher than expected. For example, searchers for “how to commit suicide” were 26% higher, “commit suicide” was 18% higher, and “how to kill yourself” was 9% higher.
On the other hand, searches related to awareness and seeking help also rose. Searches for “suicide hotline number” rose to 21%, “suicide prevention” to 23%, and “teen suicide” to 34%.
The researchers believe that removing scenes depicting suicide on the show and including support numbers in the episodes might lessen potentially dangerous effects the show may have.
Netflix, which airs the show, acknowledged the concerns raised by the public, and addressed them through a 30-minute documentary entitled, “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons.” Here, “the cast, producers and mental health professionals discuss scenes dealing with difficult issues, including bullying, depression and sexual assault.”
The study was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.