A recent study on the hit Netflix show “13 Reasons Why,” which features a teen’s posthumous telling of the 13 reasons she committed suicide, suggests the show may have sparked an increase in online searches about suicide, including how to do it.
Using online data analysis tools such as Google Trends, researchers analyzed search patterns for the time period of three weeks beginning after all 13 episodes of the show were unveiled on Netflix on March 31. They found that this period saw roughly 900,000 more searches regarding suicide, a 19 percent increase from the average. Searches included topics such as suicide hotlines, prevention, and methods.
Obviously, there are limits to the conclusions onlookers can draw from the data. A journal editorial noted that it is impossible to distinguish which searches “were made out of idle curiosity or by suicidal individuals contemplating an attempt.”
In a written statement, Netflix 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.”
Researchers who headed the study suggest it has its limits but “should be taken seriously.” John Ayers, a San Diego State University researcher who led the study, thinks Netflix should do more to emphasize suicide prevention in the way it formats episodes. He thinks they could have focused on the far-more frequent occurrence of people deciding not to commit suicide, and being forever happy they didn’t.
“Far more people go to the brink and come back and have satisfaction with that decision,” Ayles said.
Madelyn Gould, a Columbia University suicide prevention researcher, stated in constructive criticism of the show:
“My main concern was that suicide was portrayed, sort of, as the inevitable consequence of life’s adversities rather than depicting what would be an actually more appropriate message, which is that there’s help when you’re feeling suicidal rather than resorting to killing yourself.”
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