Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’ was the subject of intrigue and controversy when it was released earlier this year. Critics claimed that the Selena Gomez-produced teen drama “glorified suicide” and was gratuitous. The desired effect, however, was to open a conversation about mental health issues effecting young people, like depression, anxiety, PTSD following the trauma of rape and the effect of bullying on self-esteem. The question is, months after its release on 31 March 2017, did it achieve its aim?
A new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal looked at Google searches around the term “suicide” just weeks after ’13 Reasons Why’ was released. Read it in full in the link above for the exact specifications, but in summary, they found that searches increased by 900,000 more than they initially expected.
Other searches researched included “suicide ideation,” “suicide hotlines,” and “suicide prevention”. So far, albeit tenuously, the show could be interpreted to be encouraging a debate around suicide, and sparking a desire among some to look deeper into the issue and the help available for people who are feeling suicidal. For example, “suicide hotline” and “suicide prevention” searches rose by 21 per cent and 23 per cent respectively.
However, the question “how to commit suicide?” was searched 26 per cent more than researchers expected.
It’s hard to analyse these figures without knowing how many of the searches made were by unique users who actually watched the show, or whether a rise in the number of people planning to end their lives was random, or due to other overwhelming environmental pressures at that time. There’s no indication as to how many of these searches actually led to individuals taking their own lives, and there is similarly little by the way of analysis into other potentially big suicide-related incidents or topics in the media at the time.
In reality, unless someone was to plough money into an initiative specifically targeting the changing attitudes of those that saw ’13 Reasons Why’, it would be incredibly difficult to draw much in the way of a conclusion from these figures.
What we can draw from this study is a need for us all to be mindful that we are consuming and sharing media responsibly – and that’s us as social media users as well as “them” as directors, producers and script writers.