Well, the holidays are right around the corner so I thought I’d dust this off.
The Myth of Suicide and The Holidays
For some time, I was under the impression that suicide rates increased during the holidays. I mean, it fit well with my contention that the widespread (often-faked) merriment of the holidays contrasted markedly with the internal state of depressed people, in the process sending them over the edge.
But, as is my tendency, I investigated this belief and discovered I was… wrong .
Apparently, I am not alone in my misconception, it seems that hauling out the discussions of holiday depressions has become as traditional as hauling out the decorations, playing Willie Colon’s Navideño Albums, and getting drunk at house and office parties. However, the idea that more people kill themselves during the holidays is about as true as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — it is simply false.
For starters, statistical data make it quite clear that April, not December, is the cruelest month. Daily suicide reports analyzed over a period of decades by a range of researchers show that suicide rates peak in the spring. In some years, there is a second, less significant, rise in late summer and early fall. However, year after year, people are least likely to commit suicide in December or January.
Even if we look at all the major holidays throughout the year, we will find none is associated with an increase in suicide rates, regardless of sex, race, or method of suicide. One researcher reviewing data showed that the suicide rate actually declines markedly a few days before most major holidays and stays low until they are over. In some cases, there’s been post-holiday rise, but none that I see it as statistically significant — it doesn’t offset the drop. In addition, most studies haven’t confirmed the post-holiday rebound effect. However, every study I have looked at (e.g., here and here) has found that the holidays themselves either lower the suicide rate or has no co-relationship to it at all.
I realize there’s also the issue that just because someone doesn’t get to the point of suicide doesn’t mean he or she is happy. But even on less dramatic measures, there is evidence to challenge the conventional wisdom that people become sadder during the holidays. The number of admissions to psychiatric hospitals, and visits to emergency rooms typically decline during December. This also ties in to the notion that there is a winter component to depression, or the “blues.” There are some individuals with a specific depressive disorder called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) who experience highest times during the winter. But it affects very small numbers compared to depressions generally. There are multiple reasons for that, and what I’m addressing here is suicide, depression, and seasonality.
The more I thought about it, the more it makes sense that the holidays can serve to lift spirits. For example, some positives of the holidays that often go unnoticed or taken for granted include: the gathering friends and relatives that serves to protect vulnerable people; holiday celebrations often evoke happy memories, hopefulness, and a renewed outlook; there is an increased awareness of and sensitivity to social safety nets.
And yes, sometimes the pressure of the holidays (often self-inflicted) can stress us out beyond the breaking point, but if you take the time to address the feelings you have about the Holidays, plan ahead, and maintain a realistic perspective about what you can afford, you can make your holidays special.
Finally, if you make sure to surround yourself with loved ones who are supportive and positive, and let go of your expectations to make time for what truly matters, you’ll be able to create memories that will carry you in the future.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…