When Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why was released in March, some viewers felt that the show would raise awareness about depression and suicide. But, as some critics feared, the show may have had a more sinister effect on some of its viewers: there was a spike in people researching how to kill themselves after the show debuted, according to a new research paper.
The paper, published by JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, looked at Google Trends data from the show’s release on March 31 through April 18. They found that after 13 Reasons Why debuted, suicide-related internet searches went up by 19 percent. Specifically, search terms for suicide awareness increased: searches for “suicide prevention” went up 23 percent and “suicide hotline number” rose 21 percent. These searches, overall, are good things.
Yet, there was also a rise in search terms that could lead to people harming themselves. Searches for “how to commit suicide” climbed by 26 percent, “how to kill yourself” by nine percent, and “commit suicide” by 18 percent. The paper does not go as far to link the show to actual suicides or attempts.
“The data shows that 13 Reasons Why isn’t fit for public health,” John Ayers, the lead researcher of the study, told Global News. “Even though it’s causing somewhat of an increase in suicide awareness and people seeking information on how to prevent suicide, we saw an increase in searches on how to commit suicide, literally, how to have a painless suicide.”
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Netflix faced intense criticism when they released 13 Reasons Why, which is based on a 2007 YA novel from author Jay Asher. It tells the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who kills herself after she was viciously bullied. Baker leaves behind 13 cassette tapes that hold clues to the people who influenced her to end her life. Critics felt the show glamorized the act of suicide and would have a negative effect on impressionable viewers. The paper, it seems, prove that their fears were justified.
“One hundred percent it did more harm than good,” Ayers said. “It should be taken down.”
In June, a Peruvian man committed suicide and left behind recordings on his computer in a similar manner to what Baker does in the show.
“We always believed this show would increase discussion around this tough subject matter,” Netflix tells PEOPLE in a statement. “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.”
The company adds that producers consulted mental health professionals to help guide the way they told the story when they dived into suicide, sexual assault, and bullying. They also launched a website (13ReasonsWhy.info) to direct users to regionally specific mental health resources.
13 Reasons Why season 2 is currently filming.
If you or someone you know needs support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.