Is '13 Reasons Why' Helping Kids Kill Themselves?

Kelley Robertson
August 1, 2017

The team gathered searches from March 31, 2017, the debut of the series, until April 18, a date they selected as the end date because searches after this date may have been related to the suicide of former National Football League player Aaron Hernandez. That's a 19-percent increase based on forecasts using Google Trends and historical search trends.

Queries for "suicide hotline number" were 21% higher than expected after the series came out, and searches for "suicide prevention" were 23% higher than anticipated.

It's not clear whether any of those searches led directly to suicide, Ayers said, but previous research has found that increases in internet searches for suicide methods are correlated with actual suicides.

"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.

As a result, he is proposing that Netflix postpone the second season of 13RY until the proper changes can be made.

A study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, however, suggests the show's portrayal of suicide is more complicated than "good" or "bad".

The series is about a high school girl who left behind 13 audiotapes where she revealed sexual assault, substance abuse and bullying that led to her decision to take her own life.

The researchers believe that removing scenes depicting suicide on the show and including support numbers in the episodes might lessen potentially risky effects the show may have.

Recently, Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert M. Avossa wrote a letter to parents saying school district personnel had been observing an increase in youth at-risk behavior in elementary and middle schools, including self-mutilation, threats of suicide, and several Baker Act incidents.

They added that the suicide-related queries focused on suicidal ideation, with some of the most frequently-used keywords being "how to commit suicide", "commit suicide", and "how to kill yourself".

"In relative terms, it's hard to appreciate the magnitude of "13 Reasons Why's release", study coauthor Mark Dredze said in a statement". He found more than 600,000 news articles and more than 11 million tweets about 13 Reasons Why during the three weeks after the show's premiere.

Netflix original 13 Reasons Why debuted on Netflix in March. "This is an interesting quasi experimental study that confirms this", Netflix said in a statement sent to United States media. It recently took the crown as the most tweeted-about series in 2017 so far, and has sparked furious debate about whether it exposes people to suicide in a potentially risky way, or is a catalyst for healthy conversations about suicide prevention.

However, there was also a jump search of terms which indicated an increase in suicide awareness. "Even though it's causing somewhat of an increase in suicide awareness and people seeking information on how to prevent suicide, we saw an increase in searches on how to commit suicide, literally, how to have a painless suicide". Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez's suicide occurred on April 19, so they decided to make that the cut off date.

Critics however say the show did not provide enough referrals to suicide prevention resources for people who may be at risk, and depicted a suicide in graphic detail during the final episode. Netflix also followed the launch of season one with a documentary called 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons, in which the cast and its producers address some of the concerns.

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