Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why’ linked to rise in suicide internet searches, SDSU study finds

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Internet searches related to suicide spiked following the airing of the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why," according to a study released Monday by San Diego State University. 

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that the searches — some of them disturbing in nature — rose 19 percent between March 31 and April 18.

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. 

Other search terms were benign, like "suicide prevention," up 23 percent, and "suicide hotline," 12 percent. 

"While it’s heartening that the series’ release concurred with increased awareness of suicide and suicide prevention, 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," Ayers said.

The series depicts the anguish and eventual suicide of a teenage girl as experienced by a friend listening to a series of audio-cassette journal entries she left behind.

The number of suicide-related searches climbed by between 900,000 and 1.5 million after the series was released, the researchers found. 

They collected all search phrases containing the word "suicide," except for those accompanied by the word "squad," as those were most likely for the unrelated movie "Suicide Squad," released around the same time. 

The team then compared those phrases’ search frequency over that time frame with a hypothetical scenario in which the "13 Reasons Why" series had never been released, based on forecasts using historical search trends. 

"This strategy allows us to isolate any effect ’13 Reasons Why’ had on how the public engaged with and thought of suicide," said study co-author Benjamin Althouse, a research scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Washington. 

Ayers said it’s not clear whether any of the searches led directly to suicides, but previous research has found that increases in internet searches for suicide methods are correlated with actual suicides.

Scientists at USC and Johns Hopkins University assisted in the research.   

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