STUDY SAYS SUICIDE SEARCHES SPIKED AFTER “13 REASONS”
In the season finale of the popular Netflix TV series “13 Reasons Why,” 17-year-old student Hannah Baker kills herself in a prolonged three-minute scene.
Even though the entire story, much of it told through flashbacks, has been leading up to this moment, and viewers already know Hannah is dead, the graphic sequence is a torment to watch. New research suggests that the show — perhaps this very scene — could have triggered suicidal thoughts in its viewers, many of whom are young people.
The 13-episode series, which was released all at once, chronicles 13 tapes that Hannah sends to those she blames for her actions. The series has captured the imagination of kids across the country. In April, it set a record for the most tweeted-about show in 2017, when it was mentioned more than 11 million times within three weeks of its March 31 launch.
Now a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that within the same three weeks, internet searches about suicide were significantly higher than expected.
“Our analyses suggest ‘13 Reasons Why,’ in its present form, has both increased suicidal awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation,” the authors wrote. “The most rising queries focused on suicidal ideation. For instance, ‘how to commit suicide,’ ‘commit suicide’ and ‘how to kill yourself’ were all significantly higher.”
Overall, suicide queries were 19 percent higher in the 19 days after the series’ release, “reflecting 900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected,” the paper reported.
John Ayers, professor of public health at San Diego State University, decided to analyze the impact of the show after it sparked a spirited debate between its creators and mental health professionals and educators about its potentially damaging influence on children. His goal was to use near-real-time data to assess any damage quickly.
“Past studies have validated that Internet searches mirror realworld suicide rates, so suicide rates have likely gone up as a result of this program,” said Ayers. “For me, as a data-driven public health scientist, I see this troubling data as a strong call to action. The show must be taken down.”
Netflix included warnings before its three most graphic episodes, including the finale with the suicide scene, and links to suicide prevention websites and a hotline.
Katherine Langford portrays Hannah Baker in a scene from the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”