The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why raised awareness about teen suicide and created a platform for discussion around a topic that’s not discussed often enough. Now a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine is showing a significant increase in internet searches related to suicide in the days following the release of the series.
According to the study, all suicide queries were cumulatively 19 percent higher for the 19 days following the release of the series, reflecting 900,000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected. Some of the search terms focused on suicidal ideation (such as "how to commit suicide" and "how to kill yourself"), which prompted the analysts to suggest that the series unintentionally increased suicidal ideation. Others focused on how to get help, with searches like "suicide hotline," "suicide prevention," and "suicide hotline number."
The study did not look at whether any of these searches led to actual suicides or suicide attempts, and it’s important to remember that reading something on the internet does not, by any means, equate to doing that thing in real life. (We’d live in a very strange world if it did.) It's not surprising that a provocative and highly watchable series about the stigmatized and often misunderstood topic of teen suicide would motivate people to find out more.
The question is what we're going to do about it.
In my view, the most notable finding of the study is the fact that people are looking for more information—whether they are considering suicide or seeking help for themselves or someone else. In that sense, this study is a wake-up call for mental-health professionals, media sources, schools, educators, and parents.
To put it simply: We need to get more information out there. Both teens and adults are searching for help in understanding these topics because they’re not getting enough information about them elsewhere. Whether they are in crisis or simply curious, they want to know more.
This is a shared burden that we must address on multiple levels—within families, school systems, the mental-health care field, media conglomerates, and the nation as a whole. Parents need to talk to their teens about suicide and depression. Teachers and guidance counselors, as overburdened as they might be, need to find ways to share accurate information and to listen and take action if teens are at risk. The media needs to responsibly portray the issues that teens face and offer education as well as entertainment. Together, we can shed light on these issues that too often remain in shadow—and, in doing so, we can save lives.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, don't wait. Get help now.