13 Reasons Why, a Netflix Series, is a story centered on the suicide of a fictional high school student. The series develops by way of seven cassette tapes the student left narrating her reasons for suicide. The show has triggered a debate among many audiences including educators and public health professionals. For some viewers, the series glamorizes the victim and the suicide act in a way that promotes suicide, while other viewers hope the series raises suicide awareness. To bring facts to the public discourse, researchers examined how internet searches for suicide changed, both in volume and content, after the series’ release.
Dr. John W. Ayers, adjunct associate professor at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health, and his team looked at search trends based on “suicide” in the United States with the aim to compare “internet search volumes after the premiere of 13 Reasons Why with expected search volumes if the series had never been released.”
The quasi experimental study found all internet searches for suicide increased 19 percent immediately following the release of 13 Reasons Why. On the one hand, the trend may indicate greater awareness of suicide, as reflected by an increase in searches such as “suicide prevention” or “suicide hotline number.” However, the specific queries with the greatest increases were for suicidal ideation. The exact search “commit suicide” increased 18 percent, “how to kill yourself” increased nine percent, and “how to commit suicide” increased 26 percent.
The patterns seen in this study suggests that the show can be harmful to its audiences as it “has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation” For authors, the findings highlight the importance of following validated media guidelines, such as those from the World Health Organization, to prevent collateral harm when covering suicide.
The study was published in JAMA Intern Med