Suicide Researchers to Netflix: Pull the Show

Search results spike after '13 Reasons Why' airs
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 31, 2017 2:58 PM CDT
Suicide Researchers Tell Netflix to Pull Show
This file image released by Netflix shows Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in a scene from the series "13 Reasons Why."   (Beth Dubber/Netflix via AP, File)

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has been controversial from the start: It deals frankly with a teenage girl's suicide, including a tough-to-watch 3-minute scene of the suicide itself. Debate has been split between one camp saying it serves an important function by raising awareness and another arguing that it could encourage copycats. Now, a study published Monday in the Journal of American Medicine has its authors clearly taking sides: They want Netflix to pull the show. The details:

  • The searches: The study found that online searches about suicide increased in the three weeks after the show premiered on March 31. Such queries were up 19% over a 19-day span, “reflecting 900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected,” per the researchers.
  • Ideation: Some of the increased searches were related to prevention, with "suicide hotline number" up 21%, for example. But researchers were vexed by the increase in searches related to what they term suicidal ideation; specifically, "how to commit suicide" searches rose 26%, "commit suicide" rose 18%, and "how to kill yourself" rose 9%, per NBC News.
  • Tough talk: "Our worst fears were confirmed," says lead author John Ayers of San Diego State University, per CNN. "That is, thousands of people, thousands more, are searching online about ways to kill themselves." He called for Netflix to pull the show and stop filming on season 2.
  • Netflix response: "We always believed this show would increase discussion around this tough subject matter. 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." In April, one of the show's writers defended the premise and the frank treatment in Vanity Fair.

  • Real world: Child psychiatrists say their patients are bringing up the show, reports the Washington Post. One at Cincinnati Children's Hospital recalls a 12-year-old girl: “She said to me, ‘I saw that show and it really convinced me that suicide was a normal thing to do,’” he says. “I’ve never heard that. In 30 years, I’ve never heard a child say this thing made me think suicide is normal. That really got my attention.”
  • One big criticism: The study faulted the show for not following media guidelines from the World Health Organization, which discourage the use of detailed scenes of suicides.
  • No definitive link: The study doesn't show that the spike in searches led to any suicides, but previous studies of such searches have shown a corresponding increase in suicide attempts, reports Live Science.
  • Season 2: Filming is underway, reports Screen Rant, and the new season is expected to be out in 2018. The first season was based on a young-adult novel by Jay Asher, but the second will be the creation of showrunner Brian Yorkey. One of the show's producers is pop star Selena Gomez.
(More suicide stories.)

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