When Selena Gomez produced “13 Reasons Why,” she said she hoped the Netflix show would increase suicide awareness and discussion around the issue. She achieved her goal; more people are thinking about suicide than ever before, but not in the way she’d hoped.
The Atlantic reported that a new study shows a sharp increase in Google searches about suicide in the days after the show aired. Most notably, searches for “how to commit suicide” increased 26%.
“It has definitely started a conversation about suicide,” said Dr. Dan Reidenberg, the executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. “But it hasn’t been the right one.”
“13 Reasons Why” follows Hannah Baker, a teen struggling with depression. In the show, Hannah’s friends listen to tapes she had made detailing the 13 reasons why she committed suicide. The show breaks all the rules about how you’re supposed to depict suicide in the media, including showing Hannah kill herself in the final episode.
“[The show] managed to break virtually every rule that exists when it comes to portraying suicide, featuring a graphic, prolonged scene of the main character’s death in the final episode and glamorizing it as a force for positive change in her community,” writes Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic.
While a direct link cannot be drawn between an increase in suicides and an increase in suicidal thoughts, the researchers said there is often a correlation. It makes sense that young people who are searching for precise methods of committing suicide would be much more likely to actually commit suicide.
The researchers, who controlled their study to exclude spikes from NFL player Aaron Hernandez’s suicide, found that between “900,000 and 1.5 million more searches than usual regarding the subject,” wrote The Atlantic. This led the authors to say that “‘13 Reasons Why,’ in its present form, has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation.”
When asked about their show’s potential negative impact on suicide rate, Netflix declined to alter the show, which would have included deleting the suicide scene. Instead, they seemed to discount replied that they would be moving forward with the second season of the show.
“We always believed this show would increase discussion around this tough subject matter,” the company said 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.”
But The Atlantic doesn’t agree with Netflix that the study is merely “interesting.” Instead, the author emphasizes the impact that art can have on society.
“What the study does show is that art and entertainment have real power, and that as patterns of media consumption change, directors and producers don’t have the luxury of imagining their work in a vacuum.”
This especially true for a company like Netflix, where it’s 100 million subscribers can binge-watch the series.
In an editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the author commented on the study, “13 Reasons Why,” and why binge-watching could make the show more dangerous.
“This immersion into the story and images may have a particularly strong effect on adolescents whose brains are still developing the ability to inhibit certain emotions, desires, and actions.”
This impact is especially important considering that suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds. Is it right to increase a young person’s exposure to suicide-inducing thoughts when they are already at such high risk?
Do you think Netflix should keep the show up? Do you think it’s responsible for them release a second season? Candace Cameron Bure thought that the show would simply increase awareness and discussion; she didn’t view it as dangerous. Do you agree with her?