Is '13 Reasons Why' Helping Kids Kill Themselves?

Netflix series '13 Reasons Why' should be withdrawn after triggering spike in 'how to commit suicide' searches

Parents and counselors have offered plenty of anecdotal evidence that the show and its conflicting messages have affected middle and high schoolers particularly in the way they talk about suicide, for better or worse. It has renewed the series for a second season.

Online searches about suicide and suicidal methods soared in the weeks following the release of controversial Netflix drama "13 Reasons Why", about a teenage girl who killed herself, U.S. researchers said Monday. They restricted their search to the time between the show's premiere on March 31 and April 18, the day before the suicide of football player Aaron Hernandez. In that study, search terms like "complete guide of suicide" were correlated with actual suicide deaths. "Searches often foreshadow offline behaviors".

On average, the searches were 19 per cent higher than forecast model.

The researchers said the popularity of the series was likely to inspire similar shows, and urged directors be more ethically and socially responsible.

About one-quarter of the searches were "how to commit suicide", while another 18 percent were "commit suicide" and 9 percent were "how to kill yourself", said SDSU Graduate School of Public Health associate research professor John Ayers. The search for "suicide hotline number" rose 21 percent.

It's important to note the study found only an association between the show's premiere and an increase in searches about suicide, and can not prove that the show is directly responsible for the increase.

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Google search volumes for queries about suicide were 19% higher than expected in the 19 days following the show's release, reflecting 900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than there otherwise would have been, researchers reported in JAMA Internal Medicine. "This is extremely concerning because it is showing us, just like it has in research studies, that pictures or detailed descriptions of how and where a person died by suicide can be a factor in vulnerable individuals imitating the attempt".

In a separate editorial, public health officials at Harvard University said the programme should have provided information for suicide helplines before each episode. Based on the popular Jay Asher novel of the same name, the series gained widespread interest in its depiction of suicide and the issues surrounding it. Peter Chui, the deceased's uncle, told KTVU that the two-minute scene where the lead character, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), slit her wrists in the bathtub probably was the trigger for Priscilla to commit suicide due to its very graphic nature. "This is an interesting quasi experimental study that confirms this", Netflix said in a statement sent to United States media. They are meant to help warn viewers of the graphic content that will be included in each episode. But not everyone was so happy to learn the teen drama was attracted hordes of young viewers - the series was also the subject of heated backlash for what some considered a glamorized portrayal of suicide.

"My initial impression was that Netflix did a very good job of creating a national platform to start talking about suicide", Caroline Fenkel tells the Daily Dot.

Fenkel says that the results following the release of the show are not surprising, and in fact reflect the show's success in starting a discussion on such a stigmatized topic.

Fenkel thinks that one of the reasons for the large increase in searches is that there are a lack of resources available for suicide awareness.

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