'13 Reasons Why' Raises Suicide Awareness, But Also Suicide Ideation

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Researchers have called on Netflix to remove the show 13 Reasons Why and edit its content before reposting, due to concerns that the show may inspire viewers to act on suicidal thoughts. Findings from the study were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The shows plot revolves around the suicide of a 16-year-old girl and the tapes she left behind which explain her reasons for taking her life.

The researchers analyzed Google searchers from the day the show was first broadcast – March 31st – to April 18th, a date selected before the suicide of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez (as it could have potentially contaminated the trends). They compared searches during this period with a hypothetical scenario in which 13 Reasons Why was never released, by using historical search trends as their basis. 

The researchers found that all suicide-related queries were up 19% following the show. Some of the searches were positive; ‘suicide hotline' (up 12%) and ‘suicide prevention' (up 23%), however there was a jump of 26% for the phrase ‘how to commit suicide', and ‘commit suicide' (up 18%), and ‘how to kill yourself' (up 9%). In all, the researchers say there were between 900,000 and 1,500,000 more suicide related searches than were expected in the 19 days following the show's release.

“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,” said lead author of the study John W. Ayers, PhD, MD, of San Diego State University. 

The authors acknowledge that they could not ascertain which searches for 'how to commit suicide' were made out of idle curiosity or by individuals actively contemplating suicide. The authors wrote that, "the producers should have taken steps to mitigate the latter, as encouraged by suicide prevention specialists." 

"We are calling on Netflix to remove the show and edit its content to align with World Health Organization standards before reposting," concluded Ayers.

For more information visit JAMA.com

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