New data shows that Netflix's "13 Reasons Why," a YA series about a teenager who commits suicide, led to an increase in searches about suicide. But what does that really mean? Photo: Netflix

Since the 13-part Netflix drama "13 Reasons Why" debuted this spring, mental health professionals have sounded off on how the arguably glamorized look at teen suicide could have led to an increase in attempts from young viewers. While many allegations have been made that the show was the cause of a few actual real-life suicides, now we have proof that it at least triggered interest in the topic: A new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine reveals that the show has led to an increase in Google searches about suicide. 

Using Google Trends, researchers found that for 19 days after the show’s March 31 release, there was a 19 percent uptick in queries about suicide, resulting in roughly 900,000 to a 1.5 million more than expected. The searches included "suicide" as well as phrases such as “suicide prevention,” “suicide methods,” “how to commit suicide,” and the most blatant: “how to kill yourself.” 

The big question: Did the show spark suicidal awareness or suicidal ideation?

Study author John W. Ayers, professor of public health at San Diego University, leans towards the latter."While it's heartening that the series' release concurred with increased awareness of suicide and suicide prevention, like those searching for "suicide prevention," our results back up the worst fears of the show's critics: The show may have inspired many to act on their suicidal thoughts by seeking out information on how to commit suicide," he said in a statement. He’s calling on Netflix to remove the show. 

 

Netflix responded, “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.”

Similar concerns were voiced about Netflix’s film “To the Bone,” which depicted anorexia in a way that many say could trigger viewers with eating disorders. It would be interesting to see the data on searches about eating disorders and anorexia since its release. 

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