The Holiday-Suicide Myth

There’s this myth. And it comes around this time of year.

People state that it’s a hard time of the year for some people, which is definitely true. You can see one of my past blog posts alluding to that statement, but people–and that includes some mental health professionals–state that suicide rates increase during the holidays. This is a myth.

This is not to say that I am discounting the suicides that do occur during the holidays; I am simply saying that the claimed rates are inflated and are not supported by data. And this belief could lead to some individuals who are suicidal to not come forward.

Why?

Have you ever thought, “Other people have it much worse than I do”?

In my own experience, this thought causes me to plummet into silence. It’s not an uncommon thought. People like Makenzie Mason, a UF lacrosse player, or someone simply known as Chad from nostigmas.org or people who find themselves in a mental health forum online– they all felt this way as well. Why should I complain when others suffer more than I? It’s a silencer, and it’s a lethal one at that.

Now here’s the thing. The holidays show a low in suicide rates. According to the CDC, suicide rates are at a low in December. It cites the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Though the data was published two years ago, the numbers show that November and December are the months with the lowest instances of suicides. The months with the highest rates are March, May, and July.

Why is this?

Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D. in her Psychology Today article states that the increase in social gather, the feeling of love and acceptance, and an “obligation” are possible deterrents.

Individuals may feel better during this time as they feel more strongly connected to others and may feel hopeful that they can dig their way out of their feelings of hopelessness and desperation. 

Suzanne Degges-White PhD

There is a another side to it. It is what Dr. Degges-White describes as the “Broken Promises” effect wherein individuals may feel cheated by the promises of the holidays. The cheer, the togetherness, the generosity…those things may not live past January. And then those suicidal thoughts reemerge.

Holiday suicides do happen though. This is a fictional case, but It’s A Wonderful Life shows George Bailey falling into despair and contemplating suicide after being pushed to the edge. It’s not just about it being the holidays. It’s about stressor after stressor building up, thinking that his life will fall to ruin because of a great financial burden that has suddenly fallen upon him. All of this coming from all the sacrifices he has chosen to make at the cost of his dreams.

And yes, there may be some individuals that do feel suicidal due to a lack of family or loss during the holidays. But those are just a few reasons for suicide to occur.

Below are Dr. Degges-White’s things to do in the event that you feel someone is feeling suicidal during the holidays:

  1. Stay in contact after the holiday has come and gone. If a person feels that they are “off the hook,” now that the celebrating and family gatherings have ended for the season, they may be more likely to believe that “now” is the best time to make a crucial decision that might lead them to end their lives.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it won’t push a person to take action. Ask them questions such as, How are you feeling? Are you considering harming yourself? Have you had thoughts like this before? Have you tried to hurt yourself in the past? Have you thought about how you might harm yourself? Are you able to access the things that you would need?
  3. Research suggests that giving a person in this state the opportunity to actually express their feelings without being censored can be therapeutic for that person. Don’t be afraid to “go there” in the conversation.
  4. If you feel the person is at risk, don’t leave them alone. If the person is willing to go to the hospital with you, and you feel safe doing so, take them to the emergency room. If that’s not an option, call 911 and let them know the circumstances of the person’s current state and the person’s location.
  5. Don’t assume that it’s “your job” to save someone from taking their own life. You can encourage the person to get help, you can reach out to emergency services, and you can be present for that person through this process. However, just as your queries about how a person feels won’t cause a person to take their own life, there is nothing you can do to keep that person from making the decision to take their own life.

In any case, whether it is during the holidays or any other time of year, whether the holidays are stressing you out or bumming you out, know that you are not alone. Reach out to someone you trust and know that you are worthwhile.

Suicide Prevention Hotlines

Argentina: +5402234930430

Australia: 131114

Austria: 142; for children and young people, 147

Belgium: 106

Bosnia & Herzegovina: 080 05 03 05

Botswana: 3911270

Brazil: 188 for the CVV National Association

Canada: 1.833.456.4566, 5147234000 (Montreal); 18662773553 (outside Montreal)

Croatia: 014833888

Denmark: +4570201201

Egypt: 7621602

Estonia: 3726558088; in Russian 3726555688

Finland: 010 195 202

France: 0145394000

Germany: 08001810771

Holland: 09000767

Hong Kong: +852 2382 0000

Hungary: 116123

India: 8888817666

Ireland: +4408457909090

Italy: 800860022

Japan: +810352869090

Mexico: 5255102550

New Zealand: 0800543354

Norway: +4781533300

Philippines: 028969191

Poland: 5270000

Portugal: 21 854 07 40/8 . 96 898 21 50

Russia: 0078202577577

Spain: 914590050

South Africa: 0514445691

Sweden: 46317112400

Switzerland: 143

United Kingdom: 08457909090

USA: 18002738255

Veterans’ Crisis Line: 1 800 273 8255/ text 838255

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