Google searches about suicide rose 19% following "13 Reasons Why," research shows
"Our worst fears were confirmed," one researcher says
The show, about a teen who kills herself, has been renewed for a second season
When it comes to the hit Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” many viewers find themselves on either side of a controversial debate.
On one end, fans of the binge-able show applaud the series for raising awareness about the tragedy of youth suicide and shedding light on how to spot warning signs of depression or suicidal thoughts.
On the other end, mental health experts describe the show as worrisome and point to how its relatable characters and graphic depiction of suicide can pose a health risk for young people already struggling with mental health issues.
Now, a new research paper aims to advance the debate, using Google search data.
It turns out that following the show’s premiere in March, online searches for terms related to suicide awareness and prevention increased, but so did search terms associated with ideation – and those had greater relative upsurge, according to the paper, which published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday.
After the premiere of “13 Reasons Why,” the search phrase “how to commit suicide” rose 26% above what would normally have been expected for that time; “suicide prevention” went up 23%; and “suicide hotline number” climbed 21%, based on the paper’s data.
“The time for rhetorical debate is over,” said John Ayers, research professor at San Diego State University and lead author of the paper.
“While ’13 Reasons Why’ has certainly caused the conversation to begin – it’s raised awareness, and we do see a variety of suicide-related searches increasing – our worst fears were confirmed,” he said. “That is, thousands of people, thousands more, are searching online about ways to kill themselves.”
Based on best-selling author Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult book of the same title, the show follows the fictional story of a teenage girl named Hannah Baker, played by actress Katherine Langford. Hannah leaves behind 13 mysterious cassette tape recordings after killing herself. Each audio recording is addressed to a person who Hannah says played a role in her devastating decision to end her own life.
Due to the findings in the new paper, Ayers called for the second season to be postponed and changes to be retrofitted to the already released first season.
In a statement that Netflix provided to CNN, the entertainment streaming company said, “We always believed this show would increase discussion around this tough subject matter. This is an interesting quasi experimental study that confirms this. We are looking forward to more research and taking everything we learn to heart as we prepare for season 2.”
A surge of suicide searches
For the paper, researchers collected data on suicide-related Google search trends in the United States from March 31, when “13 Reasons Why” premiered, through April 18, before former NFL player Aaron Hernandez’s suicide, which would have skewed the search data.