On­line searches for ‘sui­cide’ increase after ‘13 Rea­sons Why’

Net­flix show adds in dis­claimer, in­for­ma­tion on pre­ven­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY LAURA KELLY

In­ter­net searches re­lated to sui­cide in­creased in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the premiere of the Net­flix se­ries “13 Rea­sons Why,” which ex­plores how bul­ly­ing con­trib­utes to a high school girl’s sui­cide. A team of re­searchers led by be­hav­ioral sci­en­tist John Ay­ers of San Diego State Univer­sity pub­lished its find­ings as a re­search let­ter in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

“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,” the re­searchers wrote in their open­ing dis­cus­sion, while not­ing wide­spread in­ter­est in the se­ries and its im­pli­ca­tions has gen­er­ated more than 600,000 news reports.

“To ad­vance the de­bate, we ex­am­ined how in­ter­net searches for sui­cide changed, both in vol­ume and con­tent, after the se­ries’ re­lease,” the re­searchers wrote.

Based on the 2007 young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher, the se­ries fol­lows the af­ter­math of the sui­cide of a girl who sent 13 cas­sette tapes to class­mates she holds re­spon­si­ble for driv­ing her to kill her­self.

“I un­der­stood that we were go­ing into some­thing that is dif­fi­cult, but these kids to­day are so ex­posed to things that I would never even have com­pre­hended when I was 8,” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Se­lena Gomez told a ra­dio morn­ing show last month.

To as­sess and an­a­lyze on­line searches, the re­searchers used Google Trends to iden­tify the top 25 queries that in­cluded sui­cide and five terms re­lated to sui­cide.

They ex­am­ined a pe­riod of 19 days from the de­but of the show and com­pared it to trends from Jan­uary to March, be­fore the show was avail­able on­line. All 13 one-hour episodes were avail­able at once on Net­flix to sub­scribers on March 31.

Dur­ing that time, re­searchers found a 19 per­cent increase in Google queries re­lated to sui­cide, which re­flected 900,000 to 1.5 mil­lion more searches than what would have been ex­pected.

Na­tion­ally, sui­cide rates have in­creased from 12.3 per 100,000 peo­ple in 2011 to 13.3 per 100,000 in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

Sui­cide ac­counted for more than 44,000 deaths in 2015 and is the sec­ond-lead­ing cause of death for peo­ple ages 10 through 34 after un­in­ten­tional in­jury.

In the re­search let­ter, the sci­en­tists said that searches for sui­cide hot­lines were higher but were fewer than “sui­cide ideation,” which in­cluded search terms like “how to com­mit sui­cide” (up 26 per­cent), “com­mit sui­cide” (up 18 per­cent) and “how to kill your­self” (up 9 per­cent).

Other queries like “sui­cide hot­line num­ber” in­creased to 21 per­cent, “sui­cide pre­ven­tion” by 23 per­cent and “teen sui­cide” by 34 per­cent.

The re­searchers said they couldn’t con­firm that sui­cide rates in­creased as a di­rect re­sult dur­ing this pe­riod of in­creased queries, but they re­ferred to other re­search that shows a cor­re­la­tion be­tween search trends and ac­tual sui­cides, and me­dia cov­er­age of sui­cides and in­creased sui­cide at­tempts.

A 2011 study in Tai­wan found an as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween in­ter­net search trends and ac­tual sui­cides, and a 2003 study ex­am­ined how the me­dia cov­er­age of peo­ple killing them­selves can in­flu­ence “copy­cat” sui­cides.

The re­searchers sug­gest, based on rec­om­men­da­tions by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s me­dia guide­lines for pre­vent­ing sui­cide, that the show re­move scenes show­ing sui­cide — the se­ries fi­nale shows the main char­ac­ter’s sui­cide over a three­minute scene — and add dis­claimers to the episodes with the num­ber for a sui­cide hot­line.

Net­flix has added dis­claimers be­fore the episodes amid pub­lic out­cry, warn­ing view­ers of its graphic na­ture, that the con­tent may be un­suit­able for cer­tain age groups and list­ing a link to the show’s web­site for in­for­ma­tion on sui­cide pre­ven­tion.

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