In the season finale of the popular Netflix TV series “13 Reasons Why,”17-year-old student Hannah Baker kills herself in a prolonged three-minute scene.
The 13-episode series, which was released all at once, captured the imagination of kids across the country. But new research suggests that the show could have triggered suicidal thoughts in its young viewers.
In April, “13 Reasons Why” set a record for the most-tweeted-about show in 2017: It was mentioned more than 11 million times within three weeks of its March 31 launch.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that within the same three weeks, Internet searches about suicide were significantly higher than expected.
Overall, suicide queries — such as “how to commit suicide,” “commit suicide” and “how to kill yourself” — were 19 percent higher in the 19 days following the series’ release, “reflecting 900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected,” the paper reported.
Analyses suggest “13 Reasons Why,” in its present form, has both increased suicidal awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation,” the authors wrote.
While Netflix provided links to suicide prevention websites, the number for a hotline and included warnings ahead of its three most graphic episodes, mental health professionals are still concerned about the influence of the show.
Since its release, hundreds of school superintendents across the United States have sent warnings to parents about the show’s possible effects on their children’s mental health. The National Association of School Psychologists put out a public caution, recommending that young people with known suicidal thoughts stay away from the show completely. Some have suggested removing the scenes showing suicide to curtail the effects of the show.
The fear of Hannah Baker-copycats is not just theoretical — several child psychiatrists have already begun to see suicidal patients who bring up the show during treatment.
Dan Nelson, medical director of the child psychiatry inpatient unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, says “13 Reasons Why” first caused him alarm when he spoke with a 12-year-old patient about it in May.
Heidi Anderson, an 18-year-old high school student from northern Kentucky, said that, as the survivor of a suicide attempt, she could only make herself watch bits of the series.
In a statement, Netflix said: “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.”
But Madelyn Gould, a youth suicide expert and professor of epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University, questions the worth of that discussion.