A new research suggests that Netflix’s popular teen drama 13 Reasons Why may have triggered a rise in the number of Google searches about suicide and possibly suicidal ideation.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on July 31, the research looked at Google Trends data to analyse how internet searches for suicide changed, both in content as well as volume, immediately after the TV series premiered on March 31.

An upswing in suicide searches

13 Reasons Why is centred on Hannah Baker, a high school student who leaves behind 13 cassette tapes after committing suicide.

While she was alive, Baker was badly bullied, assaulted and generally ignored. She addresses each audio recording to a person who she claims played a role in her decision to take her own life.

Researchers noted that over the first 19 days after the show’s debut (between March 31 and April 18), 900,000 to 1.5 million more Internet searches were made about suicide and suicide methods than the expected, reflecting a 19% hike.

“Seventeen of the top 20 related queries were higher than expected, with most rising queries focused on suicidal ideation,” said the study.

The research highlighted that online searches for “how to kill yourself” increased by 9% while “commit suicide” went up by 18% and “how to commit suicide” escalated by 26%.

However, not all the search results were negative. The paper found that searches for “suicide prevention” went up by 23% and “suicide hotline number” increased by 21%.

It is crucial to note that the study does not determine whether the Internet searches studied during the research actually led to any suicide attempts.

The paper concluded by stating that 'our analyses suggest ’13 Reasons Why, in its present form, has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation.”

Suicide on-screen

Ever since it first aired in March, the teen drama has met with equal parts praise and backlash.

“If there was a list of ways not to portray suicide, this would tick every box,” said The Guardian columnist Zoe Williams, in an April 2017 article.

Aimed at a young audience, Netflix's breakout hit series was intended to reveal the gruesome, graphic nature of suicide. According to Nic Sheff, one of the show’s writers, 13 Reasons Why was created to “to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off.” Sheff himself had once attempted to take his own life. He shared his views about the series in a Vanity Fair op-ed that he wrote after the show’s release.

“I’m proud to be a part of a television series that is forcing us to have these conversations because silence really does equal death,” he added.

“Getting help is what saves people, as long as the help does what it's supposed to do: help…In the show, Hannah does what she should, she seeks help. But the help wasn't good enough, and that's the note the show ends on,” wrote Rudi Kinsella in an op-ed published on an Irish news website, JOE.ie.

“Perhaps directing the conversation towards young people, as 13 Reasons has done, is what needs to be done,” Kinsella added.

A difficult topic

However, some people aren’t happy with the way suicide was portrayed on the show.

“In 13 Reasons Why, I don’t see a daring and powerful teen drama. It’s just a tired attempt at discussing a difficult topic. It’s clear the creators see suicide only for its shock value, and I worry for the teens like me who will watch the show,” wrote 18-year-old Jaclyn Grimm in a USA Today opinion piece.

"There is a great concern that I have ... that young people are going to overidentify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series," said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), a suicide prevention advocacy group, told ABC News.

Two months ago, 15-year-old schoolgirl Bella Hendon took her own life after being apparently “inspired” by the controversial Netflix show, stated a News Corp Australia report.

In another case, Franco Alonso Lazo Medrano, a 23-year-old Peruvian, took his own life and left behind recordings just like Hannah Baker did in 13 Reasons Why.

"The way things are portrayed in the media does have an effect on the way suicides can happen. This is particularly true for young people that are very vulnerable and at risk of suicide," added Reidenberg.

According to SAVE, suicide is the third leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-44 years.

If you are feeling depressed or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the SupportLine telephone helpline at 01708 765200. You can also talk to your parents or a loved one or, seek professional help. It's important to know you're not beyond help and you're not alone.