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Internet Searches for Suicide Spiked After Release of '13 Reasons Why'

New research suggests the fears of public-health experts were justified.
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When the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why was released this spring, educators and public-health experts expressed alarm. The drama, which was aimed at a young audience, not only focused on a teenager's suicide; as our Katie Kilkenny reported, it did so in a manner that "risks validating suicide as a means of gaining the sympathy of others."

Just-published research suggests their concerns were justified. A research team led by John Ayers of San Diego State University used Google Trends to determine how often the term "suicide," and related terms, were searched for on the Internet between March 31st (the series' release date) and April 18th.

"All suicide queries were cumulatively 19 percent higher for the 19 days following the release," the researchers report in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. This reflects "900,0000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected."

"It is unclear whether any query preceded an actual suicide attempt," they add. "However, suicide research 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."

They suggest that, as they write a second season of the show, the creators should consider "removing scenes showing suicide," or "including suicide hotline numbers in each episode." Drama is supposed to move viewers—not move them to contemplate taking their own lives.