It's Official: '13 Reasons Why' Isn't 'Fit for Public Health,' According to Science

Katherine Langord as Hannah in 13 reasons why
Beth Dubber/Netflix

13 Reasons Why continues to be a controversial show that's stirring up discussions about suicide, bullying, and sexual assault. While many have praised the Netflix series for going there, others have been leery of the potential dangers that airing such a show can have -- and those concerns are proving to be valid. Experts discovered 13 Reasons Why may have spiked online searches about suicide, which is a parent's worst nightmare come true.


The bombshell, published in JAMA Internal Medicine on July 31, analyzed Google Trends data between March 31, the show's premiere date, and April 18.

... and the results are pretty disturbing.

More from CafeMom: Why My Kid Won't Be Watching '13 Reasons Why' & Its Dangerous Message

Researchers at San Diego State University found there were 900,000 to 1,500,000 more online searches related to suicide during the 19-day timeframe -- with 26 percent more "how to commit suicide" inquiries, and a 9 percent jump in searches on "how to kill yourself." While there was an increase in suicide-related searches that focused on discouraging the act of taking one's own life ("suicide prevention," for example, was up 23 percent), experts involved in the study strongly conclude the risks of 13 Reasons Why far outweigh the benefits.

"The data shows that 13 Reasons Why isn't fit for public health," Dr. John Ayers, lead author of the study, declares to Global News in an interview. "Even though it's causing somewhat of an increase in suicide awareness and people seeking information on how to prevent suicide, we saw an increase in searches on how to commit suicide, literally, how to have a painless suicide."

Hannah 13 reasons why

It's important to note that researchers involved with this study remain unsure whether or not the presence of 13 Reasons Why encouraged people to commit suicide. Experts, however, strongly believe the Netflix hit inspired something called "suicide contagion"  -- a phenomenon thought to trigger suicidal persons to carry out the act after exposure to suicide-related media and discussions.

"Reports of suicide should not be repetitive, as prolonged exposure can increase the likelihood of suicide contagion," the US Department of Health & Human Services notes. "Suicide is the result of many complex factors; therefore media coverage should not report oversimplified explanations such as recent negative life events or acute stressors."

More from CafeMom: Children of Suicide Are More Likely to Kill Themselves

The World Health Organization also dissuades media outlets from focusing too much on suicide -- including the act itself -- which makes 13 Reasons Why, a show fixated on tapes explaining why the main character (Hannah Baker) ultimately took her own life and showing it, problematic.

Clay 13 reasons why
Beth Dubber/Netflix

Dr. Ayer also feels the way in which 13 Reasons Why shows Hannah essentially being turned away from the school guidance counselor after seeking help is troublesome as well. "The mental health advocate ignores her," Dr. Ayers tells Global News. "We don't want to send that message to people, that they won't get help if they speak up."

Whether you agree with experts' warnings surrounding 13 Reasons Why or don't think it's that big of a deal, this study should make all of us stop and take pause. 

"The show makers must swiftly change their course of action, including removing the show and postponing a second season," Dr. Ayers mentions to Global News. ".... I would tell a story that those contemplating suicide need to hear -- a success story. A story of someone who was on the edge and contemplating suicide who sought help and was given care ... who came back from the edge and lived a long life."

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