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Internet searches for suicide after '13 Reasons Why'

July 31, 2017

Internet searches about suicide were higher than expected after the release of the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" about the suicide of a fictional teen that graphically shows the suicide in its finale, according to a new research letter published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

The series has sparked debate about its public health implications.

John W. Ayers, Ph.D., M.A., of San Diego State University, California, and coauthors compared internet search volumes after the 2017 premiere with expected search volumes if the series had never been released (March 31 through April 18). The authors used a cut-off date that preceded former football player Aaron Hernandez's suicide on April 19 so their estimates would not be contaminated.

The research letter reports:
  • All Google searches that included the term "suicide" were cumulatively 19 percent higher for the 19 days following the series release, reflecting 900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected.

  • For 12 of the 19 days studied, all suicide searches were greater than expected, ranging from 15 percent higher on April 15 to 44 percent higher on April 18.

  • The authors examined 20 common queries to describe how suicide related search content also changed and 17 of the 20 related queries were higher than expected, with more searches focused on suicidal ideation, such as "how to commit suicide," "commit suicide," and "how to kill yourself."

  • Searches for suicide hotlines were higher, as were searches indicative of public health awareness, but less so than suicidal ideation.

"'13 Reasons Why' elevated suicide awareness but it is concerning that searches indicating suicidal ideation also rose. It is unclear whether any query preceded an actual suicide attempt," the article concludes, noting that further surveillance will help to clarify the findings.
For more details and to read the full study, please visit the For The Media website.


Editor's Note: Please see the article for conflict of interesting and funding/support disclosures. For more information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

The JAMA Network Journals

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