In recent years, suicide has been considered one of the leading causes of death among teenagers aged 15 to 19. This mental health issue was recently underscored after the latest study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that there’s a significant increase of 19 percent (900,000 to 1.5 million) for suicide-related searches online — all thanks to the controversial Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why.”

The series was a television adaptation of Jay Asher's novel with the same title. It depicted the story of Hannah Baker, a distressed and bullied high school student who committed suicide.

What’s interesting about Baker’s story is the fact that she left audio tapes that explained why she took her own life and the people who contributed to her death.

The study

Even though it is unclear if the suicide-related queries pave the way for an actual suicide attempt, John W. Ayers Ph.D. of San Diego State University’s Graduate School of Public Health explained that he and his colleagues correlated the internet searches with the actual suicides. Ayers added that following the premiere of “13 Reasons Why,” suicide coverage by the media corresponds with increased suicide attempts, while exact suicide methods queries also rose.

Tracking the trends from the series’ debut on March 31 through April 18 by using Google Trends, the researchers compared the online searches for the word “suicide” throughout the 19 days since the series was released to the occurrence of searches that would normally occur without the show. Based on their findings, suicide-related searches rose by 15 to 44 percent following the series’ release.

Removing scenes showing suicide

Since most of the searches in the research focused on suicidal thoughts, the researchers suggested the removal of suicide-showing scenes. To lessen the potentially harmful implications of these types of shows, they underscored the importance of including suicide support lines in each episode, citing the upcoming second season of the series airing in 2018.

Furthermore, the experts stressed the need to provide teens and parents resources to help them process sensitive and potentially triggering ideas and content just like what’s shown in “13 Reasons Why.” Boston Children's Hospital’s Kimberly McManama O’Brien, Ph.D., and her two Harvard Medical School colleagues explained that these emotionally laden content may have a strong effect on the teens, whose “ability to inhibit certain emotions, desires and actions” are still developing.

Parental and media guidelines

The experts also highlighted the significance of following the parental guidelines published by several mental health specialists and organizations. They emphasized that parents play a crucial role in watching and discussing the series with their kids.

In fact, Dr. Anna Parnes and Jennifer Leydecker of the Children’s Health Council are urging parents to watch the show with their children.

Apart from the responsibilities of the parents, Ayers also stressed the need for the media to follow certain guidelines from the World Health Organization whenever they plan to show depictions of suicide. This way, the trigger to carry out suicide attempts could be avoided.

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