13 Reasons Why shows a story of a teenager who committed suicide and left cassette tapes detailing the 13 reasons why she ended her life. While seemingly entertaining to some, the series has raised controversies as alarmed school psychologists and educators expressed their concerns regarding its effect on suicide rates.
“Psychiatrists have expressed grave concerns, because the show ignores the World Health Organization’s validated media guidelines for preventing suicide,” John W. Ayers from the San Diego State University and author of the study told Fatherly.
To give new information about the discussion, researchers used internet search data to examine how Google searches for suicide changed after the show’s release. Using Google Trends, the researchers traced the search trends for terms like “suicide” and 20 other related terms from March 31 to April 18.
On the 19-day period, Google searches about suicide had a 19 percent increase, with “how to commit suicide”, “commit suicide”, and “how to kill yourself” rising at 26%, 18%, and 9%, respectively. Searches regarding suicide help also increased with “suicide hotlines” and “suicide prevention” terms rising at 12% and 23% as well.
“It’s unsurprising that we find the show has increased suicidal thoughts—thoughts that are known to be linked to suicide attempts,” Ayers says. “I’d create a show that offers a message those contemplating suicide need to hear—a success story of how someone contemplating suicide sought and was given help, and persevered to have a full life,” Ayers suggests. “This is where 13 Reasons Why totally misses the mark.”
However, Selena Gomez, one of the series’ producers, stated that they were just being faithful to the source material. "We wanted to do it justice and, yeah, [the backlash is] gonna come no matter what. It's not an easy subject to talk about, but I'm very fortunate with how it's doing," she told Associated Press.
Suicide and other mental illnesses are topics that shouldn't be taken lightly. While raising awareness through art (paintings, movies, books) can be helpful, we are not to neglect that when not explained properly, our efforts can just ultimately backfire and cause others harm.
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