The Myth of Holiday Suicides

Every year, the holiday season is greeted by news stories focused on a supposed increase in suicidality. In fact, November and December are the months with the lowest recorded suicide rates overall and per day, as reported by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. The notion that suicide deaths occur over the winter holidays is a myth, proven untrue by numerous studies, and yet reporters and editors continue to promote it.

The prominence of such coverage may be due in part to traditional holiday stories centered around ‘holiday blues,’ like the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Despite the often positive endings to these stories, their use of depression and suicide as subject matter may be one of the reasons the topic of suicide is attached to the holidays.

Though the myth perpetuating holiday suicidality is incorrect, it is important to take the proper measures to ward against its continuance. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention warns that myths about suicide can be dangerous as they may lead individuals to believe that it is “normal” for people in their situation to end their life, and could trigger them to do so. Furthermore, belief that suicide risk is especially high around the holidays may also lead to less readiness to recognize warning signs during other times of the year. Both news media outlets and individuals should instead focus on promoting positive stories of recovery and messages of hope during this time, including linking to available resources. Rather than repeating the myth, news media can highlight community services, profile individuals who have sought and received help for suicidal feelings, or discuss steps to take to ward off any “holiday blues” that might arise.

Many people may believe that holiday cheer will make individuals feel more isolated, or that stress associated with the season might trigger unhappiness or even increase depression. In fact, the holiday season often provides the emotional or social support that individuals at risk need. According to New York University’s Langone Medical Center, studies show that psychiatric visits actually decrease during the month of December, a fact they argue is due to the abundance of emotional support available from friends and families during the holiday season.

The holidays do provide a special opportunity to reach out to loved ones and provide support and comfort for whatever they are going through. Many of us remember to contact friends that we may have lost touch with throughout the rest of the year. Still, those at risk, and the supporters around them, should not allow holiday cheer to mask or undermine depressive situations.

In particular, people who are grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide death may need additional support and care during this time, when they may feel their absence even more acutely. The holiday season – like all seasons – is also a good time to make sure that you and your loved ones know where to turn for support. Visit SuicideIsPreventable.org to learn the warning signs for suicide and find local resources in your county. If you or someone you know may be at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help. Answered locally by trained crisis center staff, this resource is available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.