As many as 1.5 million additional online suicide searches following “13 Reasons Why”

By Dave Andrusko

In the weeks following the Netflix show’s release, searches of “how to commit suicide” were up 26 percent. Beth Dubber/Netflix

In the weeks following the Netflix show’s release, searches of “how to commit suicide” were up 26 percent.
Beth Dubber/Netflix

If this doesn’t unnerve you, I’m not sure what would.

Reuters Health reported that a study appearing online in JAMA Internal Medicine found that “Online searches related to suicide spiked right after Netflix released ‘13 Reasons Why,’ a popular series about a teen girl who takes her own life” [].

The study appeared online on July 31 but it was not until a friend forward the Reuters Health story (written by Lisa Rapaport) to me today that I was aware

Google search volumes for queries about suicide were 19 percent 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.

Why is this significant? Rapaport quotes lead author John Ayers of San Diego State University in California, who said, “The more someone contemplates suicide, the more likely they are to act,” adding, “Searches often foreshadow offline behaviors.”

“In ‘13 Reasons Why,’ high school student Hannah Baker kills herself and leaves behind cassette tapes describing the events that led to her death, which is shown in graphic detail in the series finale,” Rapaport explains. “After its debut, many mental health experts raised concerns that watching the series could trigger copycat suicides, particularly among certain vulnerable teens who might already be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.”

Rapaport contacted Netflix whose response is a textbook example of evasion and insensitivity. “We always believed this show would increase discussion around this tough subject matter,” Netflix told Reuters Health in an emailed statement. “This is an interesting quasi experimental study that confirms this.”

Netflix seemed convinced it had done all it needed to—content warmings, advice to parents “to watch the show with teens and offered talking points,” and the like.

Which did not go nearly far enough for Kimberly McManama O’Brien, co-author of an accompanying editorial in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“The choice to graphically depict the suicide death of the star of the series was a controversial decision,” McManama O’Brien said by email. “Research has shown that pictures or detailed descriptions of how or where a person died by suicide can be a factor in vulnerable individuals.”