The holidays are traditionally a time of celebration, enjoyment, and, in the case of New Years, new beginnings. Each day leading up to Christmas and New Years Eve is full of joy, and the feeling tends to linger even weeks after the last firework lights up the sky. Yet, with so much cause for joy, it has been suggested by media outlets that the holiday months create an increased rate of suicide.
A Time for Joy? Or Concern?
A 2013-2014 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center revealed that over 70% of articles written about suicide during the holiday months reported higher suicide rates. Many of these sources cite two root causes of the increased rate. First, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, creates mood disorders at a much higher frequency during winter months. Second, the mood of the holiday season creates an adverse effect on those suffering from loss, loneliness, or depression. According to the idea perpetuated by these outlets, these two factors create a “holiday suicide trend” that has perpetuated year after year dating back to the turn of the century.
It would be hard to argue against evidence to suggest that winter weather and Christmas cheer can create a depressive atmosphere. Some people find Christmas to be tacky, or feel like they have nothing to celebrate given their situation. Others simply aren’t looking forward to the Black Friday brawls or last minute gift orders. No one would blame them either given how insane holiday shopping has become in recent years.
But this is just evidence of depression. We know that correlation does not equal causation, and the reality is not always what you read about.
The Truth Behind The Suicide Myth
The 2014 Annenberg PPC study provides a chart that details the suicide rates during holidays months between 2000 and 2010. Although rates increased overall, January maintained the lowest rate when compared to the months of October, July, and April. The highest rates are actually between the months of April and August. There are many theories on why this is the case, a few of which you can read about here.
So, the reality runs contrary to what some major articles may tell you; Suicide rates are actually at their lowest during the winter months. The support of friends and families during the holidays along with a more communal environment actually helps prevent suicide. The New Year itself acts as a symbol of new beginnings, especially for those in the United States.
So why create the myth at all?
The holiday suicide myth is considered to be conventional wisdom. As with “old wives tales” and similar colloquial ideas, the myth became a widespread supposition that leaked into legitimate media outlets. Although the trend has been debunked numerous times by the CDC and through repeated studies, the myth remains a popular headline for fear mongering click-bait around the holidays. The sad truth is that such articles deliberately misinform the public solely for views, and potentially inspire those on the edge of committing suicide that the holidays are an ideal time to end their lives.
Awareness is Important
Despite the myth, the suicide rate continues to steadily increase year by year. Over 40,000 Americans commit suicide every year, and more than 25 times that amount attempt it. If you’re concerned that a family member may be at risk, then consider this information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Also be aware of the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Stay safe, stay warm, and enjoy the New Year.