Since its release, 13 Reasons Why has been a hot topic for debate. Was it good for teens? Was it bad for teens? Did it glamorize suicide? Would it inspire its viewers to consider taking their own lives?
We seem to have an answer to that last question now, and it’s concerning. According to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, searches for topics surrounding suicide — including how to do it — spiked shortly after the show was released. In the 19 days after the show’s debut — yes, when we were all in the midst of frothy hot takes about the show — searches for topics related to suicide rose a dramatic 19 percent. Cosmopolitan reports that “how to commit suicide” rose 26 percent in searches. In addition, “commit suicide” rose 19 percent in searches, and the more colloquial “how to kill yourself” saw a spike of nine percent after the show started airing.
The dates the researchers chose (March 31 to April 18) were deliberate: The show dropped on the 31st. On April 19, Aaron Hernandez, a football player convicted for murder, killed himself while in prison. In order to ensure that their data focused only on the effects the show, they chose not to look past the 18th, although it’s possible that searches continued to be affected. “Overall,” NBC reports, “researchers found 900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected following the 19-day period after the release of ’13 Reasons Why.’”
While the research can’t determine whether such searches actually led to more attempts — although a study on how the show affected suicidal gestures must be in the works somewhere — it’s still an important finding. And, of course, it’s important to note that curiosity isn’t inherently bad and that the searches could have occurred for any number of reasons.
And there’s promising news, too: While the search terms above spiked after the show premiered, searches for “suicide hotline” also rose by 21 percent. Though that’s probably cold comfort to critics.