Health

The Truth About Suicides During the Holidays

December 18th 2016

By:
Kyle Jaeger

It's a persistent myth: Suicides spike during the holiday season.

But the idea isn't supported by any statistical evidence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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In fact, the suicide rate in America hits its lowest point in the month of December — directly contradicting numerous media reports that suicides are more prevalent this time of year.

About half of the articles written over the 2009-2010 holiday season mislead readers about this trend, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

There are about 36,000 suicides — and 374,000 hospital visits for self-inflicted wounds — in the U.S. each year, making suicides the 10th-leading cause of death in the country.

But suicides are most common during spring and fall.

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It's unclear where the myth of increased holiday suicides originated.

One popular theory cites the Christmas-themed 1946 film "It’s a Wonderful Life," whose protagonist contemplates suicide, The Atlantic reported.

Others speculate that personal stress over the holidays informs the misconception, leading some to miscalculate the psychological effects of the season.

But that kind of stress isn't associated with increased risk of suicide, Dr. Chistine Moutier, the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told NPR in 2013. "It's not even major psychosocial stressors on their own that would lead somebody to kill themselves," she said.

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The CDC lists a number of factors that actually do correlate with increased risk of suicide, including family history, clinical depression, substance abuse, isolation, and a lack of mental health resources.

Public health experts have warned that misinformation about holiday suicides "might ultimately hamper prevention efforts."

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"One of the things that [researchers] take note of is telling people who might be vulnerable to thinking about suicide ... that other people are dying by suicide can be a trigger that would get them to contemplate it a little more seriously and potentially even carry out the act," Dan Romer, the research director at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, told ATTN:.

"There's research that shows that," Romer said. "Having reporters tell people that this is the time of year when people are dying by suicide doesn't seem like a good idea if you want to avoid that outcome."

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression during the holidays, feel free to contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 800-950-6264.