Education

Web Searches on Suicide Rose After ’13 Reasons Why’ Release, Study Says

By Mark Walsh — August 01, 2017 3 min read

Researchers say that Internet searches for information about suicide spiked 19 percent during the period immediately after the popular, but controversial, Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” debuted on March 31.

Queries such as “how to commit suicide” and “how to kill yourself” were all significantly higher in the 19 days after the show debuted over a comparable period. (More on the methodology below.)

“Seventeen of the top 20 related queries were higher than expected, with most rising queries focused on suicidal ideation,” or suicidal thoughts, says the paper by John W. Ayers of the San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health and four other researchers that was posted online July 31 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, published by the American Medical Association.

The researchers say it was unclear whether the increase in searches related to suicidal thoughts led to an actual increase in suicide attempts.

“However, suicide search 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,” the report says.

“13 Reasons Why” is based on a book of the same name and is about a set of tapes left behind by 17-year-old student Hannah Baker detailing whom she believes wronged her and led her to commit suicide. The final episode includes a flashback depicting Baker’s suicide by razor in a bathtub, a scene that unfolds in graphic and grisly detail over three minutes.

The show has been widely viewed by teenagers, but came in for criticism on several fronts, including for the depiction of the act of suicide. The National Association of School Psychologists offered a public caution that vulnerable youths not view it.

The producers of the 13-part series have maintained that it was intended as an honest portrayal of the pain and finality of suicide, as well as such contributing factors as cyberbullying, stalking, “slut shaming,” and rape.

In a 30-minute after show that was released with the series, Bryan Yorkey, the executive producer of “13 Reasons Why,” addressed why the decision was made to depict Hannah’s suicide.

“We wanted it to be painful to watch,” he said in the show. “Because we wanted it to be very clear there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide.”

In a statement released this week in response to the JAMA Internal Medicine study, 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.”

(Netflix announced in May that it had renewed the series for a second season.) The company also some of the steps it took because of the sensitive subject matter, such as consulting with mental health professionals during production, releasing a companion website (13ReasonsWhy.info) directing viewers to regional mental health resources, and the after show.

The authors of the JAMA Internal Medicine study said they compared internet search volumes for the period from March 31 to April 18 with “expected search volumes,” based on an algorithm, as if the series had never been released.

“‘13 Reasons Why’ elevated suicide awareness, but it is concerning that searches indicating suicidal ideation also rose,” the report says.

The authors suggest in the relatively short report that “the deleterious effects of shows such as ’13 Reasons Why’ could possibly be curtailed by following the World Health Organization’s media guidelines for preventing suicide, such as removing scenes showing suicide, or addressed by including suicide hotline numbers in each episode.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

7796 - Director of EAL (K-12) - August '21
Dubai, UAE
GEMS Education
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read