US researchers in public health, disease modelling and medicine have reviewed suicide queries following the release of the controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (31 March 2017).

The show explored the suicide of a fictional teen (pictured above) and its impact on the community, while the finale graphically showed the actual suicide – a scene that received a lot of criticism and generated debate about whether it promoted suicide.

How did Google searches reflect this potential impact?

The researchers used Google Trends to obtain data on search trends of the top 20 terms related to suicide.

They ignored duplicates and unrelated terms, as well as those that mentioned Suicide Squad – a popular film released about the same time.

All suicide queries were cumulatively 19% higher during the 19 days following the release of 13 Reasons Why, the researchers found.

This reflected 900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected.

For 12 of the 19 days studied, suicide queries were significantly greater than expected, ranging from 15% higher on 15 April 2017, to 44% higher on 18 April 2017.

Most of the queries that were significantly higher than expected focused on suicidal ideation:

  • “How to commit suicide” (rose by 26%)
  • “Commit suicide” (18%)
  • “How to kill yourself” (9%)

However queries for suicide hotlines and public awareness were also elevated, including:

  • “Suicide hotline number” (21%)
  • “Suicide hotline” (12%)
  • “Suicide prevention” (23%)
  • “Teen suicide” (34%)
graph of rise in suicide searches

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine 2017.

13 Reasons Why elevated suicide awareness, but it is concerning that searches indicating suicidal ideation also rose,” say the authors, whose research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“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.”

They say the deleterious effects of shows such as 13 Reasons Why could possibly be curtailed by following the WHO media guidelines for preventing suicide – including removing the scenes showing suicide, or including suicide hotline numbers in each episode.

“Additional surveillance will clarify our findings, including estimating changes in suicide attempts or calls to national suicide hotlines,” say the researchers.

“Nonetheless, our analyses suggest 13 Reasons Why, in its present form, has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation.”

If this story affected you, you can contact:

Lifeline: 13 11 14
www.lifeline.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
www.beyondblue.org.au  

Pharmacists’ Support Service: 1300 244 910

supportforpharmacists.org.au